While the idea of iyeol-chiyeol, or fighting fire with fire, is one of the most time-tested ways to beat the heat during summers in Korea, a popular alternative is simply to cool down with an icy bowl of springy noodles. So if you’re not ready to sweat it out, slurp it up.
Right at the turn of summer, when cool breezes give way to the sun’s heat, there’s one particular thought that begins to haunt all locals: a mouth-watering, refreshing bowl of ice-cold naengmyeon, or chilled noodles. Though popular in Seoul, the secrets of the delectable dish originate in North Korea. The two main varieties of naengmyeon arrived south of the DMZ after the Korean War (1950-1953), by way of Pyeongyang and Hamheung, the second largest city after the northern capital.
Pyeongyang-style mul-naengmyeon is characterized by its broth, which often includes chunks of crushed ice floating neatly beside the noodles. The broth, made from a beef or pheasant stock and dongchimi (radish water kimchi), has a light and refreshing taste. The buckwheat noodles are topped with julienned cucumbers, Korean pear, thinly sliced beef and half of a hard-boiled egg. Contrasting flavors of lightly sweet and subtle sour are integrated with vinegar and mustard for a layered flavor.
Noodles representative of Hamheung, on the peninsula’s northeast coast, are bibim-naengmyeon, a broth-less variation known for its zesty gochujang, or red pepper paste, sauce. The noodles are often made of a sweet potato starch, as opposed to buckwheat, which lend it a darker color and al dente chew. Similar to its sister dish, cucumber, pear and egg are added, though flavored with vinegar and sugar, to balance out the roaring spiciness of the gochujang.
One well-known trait of naengmyeon is the long strands of noodles. Symbolic of longevity, it is traditional to leave the noodles at their original length, although most people today will cut the noodles for easier consumption.
Source: Korea People & Magazine, June 2011