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Naengmyon (Cold Korean Noodles)

July 31, 2011

It’s been HOT in Santa Barbara. Well, not as bad as heat wave across the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, but still pretty toasty. And when it gets summertime-hot, I start to crave things that are either ice-y or spicy. Korean naengmyon satisfies both, and then some.

In restaurants in Korea, you can usually only order the ice cold, slightly chewy, long buckwheat noodles during the summer. But their extreme popularity and addictiveness has nothing to do with a limited-time-only gimmick; it’s just that nothing hits the spot like a big bowl of naengmyon on a hot summer afternoon. Not even my (future blog post &) beloved Japanese zaru-soba…

Naengmyon is served in a partially-frozen tangy (fermented and kimchi-reminiscent) broth, either with a spicy kochuchang (chili paste) sauce (in a variation called Bibim Naengmyon), or with an even spicier mustard sauce or vinegar (plain old Mul Naengmyon). The noodles are then topped with crispy and refreshing thinly sliced cucumbers, Asian pears, and hard-boiled eggs.

(At first glance, this bowl of naengmyon– at a restaurant in Seoul– may look perfectly lovely and harmless:

…but it was, in fact, one of the spiciest things I have ever eaten in my life. I should have scooped out some of that sauce before stirring; the entire bowl turned bright red, and the hard-boiled egg was my only real respite from the chili!)

Other optional toppings include cold slivers of boiled beef, julienned carrots or daikon radish, slices of pickled ginger, and kimchi. Almost anything cold and crunchy works. This beautiful naengmyon (in Gyongju, South Korea) was even served with peach slices instead of pear:

For my first attempt at re-creating Naengmyon, I took the advice of a Korean language exchange friend in Santa Barbara, and bought this “instant” naengmyon package (at a big Korean grocery store in LA):


It came with packets of fresh noodles (which required boiling for 40 seconds only!), packets of the fermented dongchimi broth (which required freezing in advance, but I just added a few ice cubes to the bowls instead), and tiny pouches of spicy mustard.

You might be able to buy the same kind of thing if you have any Korean markets nearby, or otherwise you could try making your own vegetarian fermented Dongchimi broth, or make a clear beef broth, straining or skimming the fat, and then refrigerating it (or partially freezing it) in advance.

The rest was easy. And it tasted just like Korea in the summertime.


Naengmyon (Cold Korean Noodles)

(Serves 2)

~ 1 12 oz. package of Korean buckwheat noodles (naengmyon guksu)
~ 2-3 cups clear fermented Dongchimi (vegetarian) broth or beef broth
~ half a cucumber, julienned
~ half an Asian pear (or other firm pear such as a Bosc pear), thinly sliced
~ 2 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
~ 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds

~ 4-6 thin slices of boiled beef
~ half a carrot, julienned
~ small part of a daikon radish, julienned
~ pickled ginger
~ kimchi
~ hot mustard or hot mustard oil

For the Bibim Naengmyon chili sauce:
~ 2-3 Tbsp. kochuchang (Korean chili paste, available at many Asian markets)
~ 1-2 Tbsp. sesame oil
~ 1-2 Tbsp. vinegar, or rice wine vinegar
~ 1-2 Tbsp. honey or sugar

How to make it:

1. Partially freeze the broth for 30 minutes or so, or else make sure you have several ice cubes on hand to add to each bowl before serving.

2. Hard boil the eggs: bring water to boil, gently lower the eggs in to simmer for 10 minutes, then remove eggs with a slotted spoon to cool in a small bowl of cold water until they can be peeled.

3. Thinly slice your toppings, such as cucumber and pear. Slice, halve, or quarter the hard-boiled eggs. Set aside.

4. To make Bibim Naengmyon, prepare the kochuchang sauce: mix together chili paste, sesame oil, vinegar, and honey or sugar, to taste. Set aside. (To make Mul Naengmyon, skip the kochuchang sauce and for flavorings, use only hot mustard or hot mustard oil and vinegar instead.)

5. Cook dried noodles according to package instructions, or fresh noodles for 40 seconds only. Drain and immediately rinse noodles under cold running water.

6. Use one large bowl for each person. Divide noodles and arrange in the center the bowl. Top with the sliced vegetables and other optional toppings, including a spoonful of kochuchang sauce for Bibim Naengmyon, and the egg on top. Surround the noodles with a few ice cubes before gently filling each bowl with the chilled or partially-frozen broth. Sprinkle each bowl with sesame seeds. Serve with spicy hot mustard, if you can handle it.

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