Naengmyeon (which translates to “cold noodles”) is a noodle dish that originated in North Korea. These noodles themselves can be made from various ingredients like sweet potatoes, arrowroot, and more, but the kind I like the most is the buckwheat variety. They are chewy, hearty, and substantial, making any bowl of naengmyeon feel like a filling meal.
Noodles come in two varieties: mul naengmyeon and bibim naengmyeon. Although there are nuances and variations in garnish depending on the region of Korea, I will present the most common ones that you will find in a Korean restaurant here in the United States.
What are myul naengmyeon or “Cold water noodles”?
If I had to choose a Korean dish that represents summer for me, it would be mul naengmyeon. Literally translated, the term means “cold noodles with water”, but thankfully they are much tastier than cold. buckwheat noodles in water. The chilled liquid surrounding them is a clear (icy, even, in some cases) beef broth, cold, sometimes a little tart and sweet, but always landing with a clean, genuinely refreshing finish.
As a bonus, you can incorporate strong mustard or mustard oil, to get a sinus cleanse aftereffect that I find absolutely irresistible and unavoidable when housing these noodles. (TMustard is also cool because it’s not an ingredient you often see in Korean cuisine.) Typical toppings include any variation of julienned cucumber, thinly sliced flank steak, a half-boiled egg, Asian pears and radish kimchi.
If you want to try recreating this dish, Inot your home kitchen, you’re in luck. Korean grocery stores often carry mul naengmyeon kits in their refrigerated aisles, and they are really, really good. All you gotta do is boil the noodles, which only takes less than five minutes (plus a vigorous rinse in cold water) and mix the soup base with water. The toppings I mentioned above involve, oh, maybe a little chopping, but otherwise it’s a meal that can be put together pretty quickly.
Noodles aren’t just refreshing because they’re cold. It’s sort of the full effect of the dish, combining chilled broth with noodles that take a while to chew thoroughly, forcing you to take your time (although you should see some people destroy a bowl in minutes), along with the additions of fresh, crunchy vegetables that enhance every bite. Ugh, everything is fine.
What bibim naengmyeon or “cold mixed noodles”?
Bibim naengmyeon is another variety of these buckwheat noodles. These translate to “mixed cold noodles”, which as you might imagine means that you mix them yourself after you’ve been served them. Unlike mul naengmyeon, bibim naengmyeon is not heavy in broth; instead, it relies on a fiery mix of toppings that cool off with sweat against cold liquid.
For the most part, the fillings are similar to mul naengmyeon, with julienned cucumbers, pears, a hard-boiled egg, and sesame seeds being the main players. When fully combined, one bite with all the components will reward you with a cold, chewy bite with bursts of vegetable freshness. But be warned, this is no joke and can kick your ass in a deliciously spicy way if you’re not prepared. I have a feeling after your first bites, you’re gonna crush that bowl like the champ I know you are.
Is one better than the other? Hard to say, because they are so different. Mul naengmyeon relies more on its delicate and balanced nature, while bibim naengmyeon just knocks you out with flavors and spices. It really is up to your mood that day. But either way, I highly recommend that you walk into your local Korean restaurant when it’s hot outside, ask for one of these noodle dishes if you see them on the menu, and get ready to relax around it. a bowl full of cold happiness.