If you stopped with naengmyeon, you’ll want
to read on to learn about the rest of
Korea’s hot-weather cold noodle dishes
Words by Ciaran Hickey, Executive chef of w seoul walkerhill
There’s just no hiding from this sweltering Korean summer heat. Unless you plan on staying indoors all the time, you’ll have to leave behind the AC at some point. Luckily, help is on hand.
When the full blast of the summer heat hits, many Koreans head for their cold noodles. These come in a few shapes and sizes, but the most popular has to be naengmyeon (냉면), a dish from our neighbors in the northern half of the peninsula. Made with buckwheat flour and potato starch, these are well-known to expats in Korea, so I decided to take a look around to find out what else is on offer.
In Myeongdong, I tried kimchi mari (김치말이), a wheat noodle dish with acorn jelly, seaweed, lettuce leaves and of course kimchi among other ingredients. It has a great spicy broth, bits of cucumber again and the never-absent hard boiled egg. While not technically noodles, a similar dish is kimchi maribap (김치말이밥), which is basically rice in the same chilled spicy broth. I think I liked the noodles better. Whichever way you go, the tang of the soup is what makes it special.
My second evening out and about brought me to jungguk naengmyeon (중국냉면), cold Chinese noodles. This dish was great, and I just wish I could find it closer to my apartment. It’s a milky soup into which Chinese noodles (the same as in jjajang myeon) are added. The chilled soup is made from chicken stock, peanut pure, scallions and ginger. It’s a little heavier than other chilled noodle dishes, but the peanuts give a great flavor, a little like Balinese satay sauce. The one I ordered had tomatoes, cucumber and dark chicken meat mixed in. My guide tells me that rice vinegar can be added to jazz it up a little. This was my absolute favorite of all the noodle dishes I had.
Another “white” soup noodle as I call it is kongguksu (콩국수). For this beauty, chilled somen noodles are put in a cold soybean soup. When I had it, there were also tomato slices, scallions and cucumber on top of it. It tasted like a really good nutty milkshake. While this sweet dish is usually made from scratch with boiled, peeled, and blended soybeans, it is sometimes made using soy milk. Naturally, the chef in me wanted to start adding all kinds of stuff to it.
The last stop on my noodle tour was to Namdaemun to have Hamheung naengmyeun (함흥냉면), another northern dish. Basically, this is made of noodles and hongeo (홍어), Korea’s love-it-or-hate-it fermented skate. This time, the fish was sliced into thin strips and tossed with a gochujang-based sauce containing, among other things, powerade! It had the usual mix of eggs and cucumbers, and I managed a little purely for research purposes. The hot sauce took some of the sting out of the fish and a beer took care of the rest.
As long as it’s still baking outside, go out and slurp down a few of these noodle dishes. There’s no shortage of wonderful people out there ready to share their secrets with you, and you just might just cool down in the process.