Today we’re taking a little taste of something icy cold – and it’s probably not what you’d first expect from that description. Cold, chewy noodles in a savoury broth poured over ice? Or with a spicy gochujang dressing? It can only be Naengmyeon (Chagaweo neomuna sokishiryeo neomuna, Eebbali neomushiryeo Naengmyeon, naengmyeon anyone?)
Naengmyeon was first and foremost designed to be a dish consumed in the summer months. It’s cool temperature and refreshingly deep flavours make it perfect for hot days under the sun. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyed all year round too. There’s something about the texture of the noodles eaten cold that’s addictive. Long, thin buckwheat noodles are the go-to choice, though there are many different version dependent upon region or even restaurant. Some of these include sweet potato or even arrowroot based noodles. These are then paired with different accompaniments – cucumbers, slices of Korean pear, thin, pickled radish, and either a boiled egg or slices of cold boiled beef – to add more flavour and texture.
But of course, there’s not just one type of naengmyeon. For anyone who has heard of the dish before, the first kind that comes to mind is likely to be Mul naengmyeon. This is the version in which the noodles are served with a cold broth of either beef, chicken or dongchimi, which is a variety of kimchi. This kimchi type is more diverse with its ingredients, consisting of radish, napa cabbage, pickled green chilli, ginger, Korean pear. Spring onions and a watery brine. Vinegar, mustard and sometimes sugar can then be added before eating, according to taste. The other most common version, Bibim naengmyeon, forgoes the broth and instead uses a spicy sauce made from gochujang to give it an extra hit. Cold and spicy might not sound like a good combination, but it works surprisingly well. Sometimes the meat broth is served in a bowl on the side, or it’s served with the plain broth from the cooking of the noodles. ‘Bibim’ might sound familiar due to bibimbap – mixed rice. Thus, bibim naengmyeon refers to the mixing of the cold noodles to get them all covered in the gochujang dressing. The third type of naengmyeon, one that’s slightly less well known, is yeolmu naengmyeon. This is so named because it’s served with yeolmu kimchi – a type of summer radish kimchi.
All of these different types originated from one, and have been made since the Joseon period. They grew in popularity during the Korean war, and since then have been eaten regularly. Traditionally, the long noodles would have been eaten as they were, as difficult as that might have been given their length. Nowadays, restaurant servers will usually ask whether you want them cut up before you eat, or will leave scissors at your table for you to cut the noodles into more manageable strips.
But don’t just take my word for how good they are. Jessica Jung and Park Myungsoo do a much better job of it in their song titled Naengmyeon that they did as part of Infinite Challenge. And it’s much catchier too! Or you can watch this video from Crazy Korean Cooking for a simple way to recreate some naengmyeon at home for yourself.