Seriously Asian: Naengmyeon, Korean Cold Noodles

[Photograph: Chichi Wang]

Korean cold noodles, naengmyeon, are Korea's counterpart to Japanese soba. Both naengmyeon and soba can be made from buckwheat; both can be served cold in a savory broth, topped with an assorted of refreshing vegetables and fish. On a hot summer's day, naengmyeon is an ideal one-bowl dish requiring so little cooking on the stove that you'll be contentedly slurping noodles long before your kitchen's had a chance to heat up.

Naengmyeon are long and thin hand-made noodles made from different kinds of flour, such as buckwheat and sweet potatoes. Naengmyeon is traditionally served in stainless steel bowls with a savory, sometimes beefy broth that's icy cold. A spicy mustard oil, clear and deadly, is added to the broth along with a bit of vinegar. Another common broth for naengmyeon employs generous amounts of gochujang, or red chili paste, that adds heat and thickness to the soup. Slices of cucumbers, pear, radish, boiled egg, and beef are common toppings. The ubiquitious kimchi, though not always served on top of Naengmyeon, also makes for a quick and easy addition to the bowl.

Less common, though equally delicious, are toppings like marinated raw fish, made with skate or other types of cartilaginous fish. The marinated skate, pungent and fishy, is almost always served with gochujang-based broths.

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

If you're looking to serve naengmyeon at home, you can find packets of the buckwheat or sweet potato noodles at any Korean supermarket. The thin bunches of noodles, which are extremely chewy, should not be confused with sweet potato noodles that are used for jap chae, another staple Korean noodle dish. Rather, naengmyeon noodles are particularly bouncy, almost resisting chewing.

The noodles will come with packets of bouillon broth and hot mustard oil; the rest is up to you. If you are making your own beef broth for the noodles, try using beef shin bones, which are commonly found at Korean markets. If you have on hand a jar of gochugang, either store bought or homemade, and some boiled eggs and vegetables, then you're well on your way to assembling the perfect cold noodle dish that nourishes without weighing you down. When you set the bunches of cooked naengmyeon into the cold broth, add a few ice cubes to the soup bowls so that you'll be slurping on chilly noodles all throughout the meal.

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.

Seriously Asian: Naengmyeon, Korean Cold Noodles

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About This Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 package Korean cold noodles
  • Suggested additions to the broth
  • Gochujang (red chili paste)
  • Rice vinegar
  • Agave nectar
  • Suggested toppings
  • 1 pear, preferably Asian, sliced thinly
  • 1 cucumber, thinly slice
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, sliced into 1/3-inch slices
  • Pickles of any sort—carrot, daikon, burdock, etc.
  • Kimchi
  • Marinated raw skate

Procedures

  1. 1

    Bring a large pot of water to boil. Follow the instructions on your packet of Korean cold noodles for the length of cooking.

  2. 2

    While the water is boiling, assemble your choice of toppings.

  3. 3

    Place the packets of broth flavoring into the bowls, along with icy cold water. Reserve a few ice cubes for when you serve the noodles.

  4. 4

    When the noodles are done cooking, immediately drain and rinse them in running cold water. Divide them among the four bowls and use a pair of scissors to cut clumps of noodles into more manageable lengths.

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