Naengmyeon: What Is It, Where To Buy and How To Eat?

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Noodles are in some of the most popular dishes in the world. They can be served at any temperature, and the flavor they have is delicious and filling. 

One of these noodle dishes you should try comes from North and South Korea, and it’s called naengmyeon.

Naengmyeon is a dish originating from North Korea. It’s cold noodles that are long and thin, handmade from flour and starch. Naengmyeon is served in chilled broth often made from beef, and topped with varying foods like sliced cucumbers, pickled radishes, boiled beef, and or a boiled egg.

The rest of this article will cover what naengmyeon is, how to eat it, and a brief conclusion.

What Naengmyeon Is

Naengmyeon (냉면) is a cold noodle dish served during each season, even winter. The flavors range depending on the ingredients, but the most common tastes are salty and meaty. 

It’s considered an acquired taste due to the strong meat flavor it has.

If the name looks familiar, that’s because naengmyeon is a trendy word in pop culture. A member of the famous K-pop girl group, Girls’ Generation, performed a song called “Naengmyeon”, which was named after the food. It also appears in many k-dramas.

Back in the Joseon Dynasty, naengmyeon came about. The earliest documentation of naengmyeon is from the 19th century. 

It came from North Korea in the cities of Pyongyang (평양) and Hamhung (함흥). After the Korean War, it became popular in South Korea too.

Over the years, it’s evolved to meet modern standards. Now it’s served in a large brass or stainless-steel bowl. 

The ingredients have changed and have more toppings. Cucumbers have become a go-to choice for those looking for a healthy way to enhance the flavor.

In tradition, the noodles wouldn’t be cut. This is because the uncut noodles symbolized good health as well as the longevity of life. 

Nowadays, servers in Korean restaurants will ask the guests if they’d like their noodles cut prior to eating.

Where To Buy Naengmyeon

In South Korea, there’s countless ways you can buy Naengmyeon. Since it works as both a main course and a side dish, you can get it not only from restaurants, but smaller places like cafes. Even though the portion will be smaller to fit the environment, it’ll still taste delicious.

Korean restaurants will offer naengmyeon both as a main and side dish. That offer applies to dine-in, take-out, and delivery. 

If that doesn’t appeal to you, then you can go to a Korean grocery store and pick up packaged noodles to cook for yourself.

Outside of Korea, your options dwindle. Korean restaurants are becoming more popular in other countries, especially the United States. 

Look at the closest Korean restaurant and see if they sell naengmyeon. If they do, dine-in, get take-out, or order delivery. 

Since Asian cuisine is so high in demand, Asian restaurants may sell their goods in packages to earn extra revenue. 

If you want to take more Korean goods, like naengmyeon, home with you, then visit a Korean restaurant and see if they’ll sell you packaged naengmyeon noodles.

Your last two options are to go to your store and see if they have packaged naengmyeon, or pick up the ingredients you’ll need to make it yourself from scratch. 

If you can’t find the packaged naengmyeon, prepare a list of ingredients you’ll need to make it.

How To Eat Naengmyeon

Noodle dishes can be modified by changing up their core ingredients. Naengmyeon is the same way. 

There’s a wide variety of ways you can change up your meal, and that includes having the noodles made with different broths. 

If you’re looking to expand your taste, you should try a special type of naengmyeon called mul naengmyeon. This dish is great for those who love meat since it’s made using meat broth. 

The common flavor of broth used is beef since it compliments the cold noodles well.

Another type of naengmyeon you should try is bibim naengmyeon. Unlike the previous naengmyeon, this one doesn’t come in broth. Instead, the broth is served on the side. 

If you like to keep your noodles and your broth separate, then you should try bibim naengmyeon.

Eating Mul Naengmyeon

The first unique type of naengmyeon you should try is mul naengmyeon (물 냉면). 

Mul in Korean means water, and in naengmyeon, that means it’s served as a cold noodle soup made from beef, chicken, or dongchimi (동치미) broth. Dongchimi is a broth made from kimchi (김치).

Originating directly from Pyongyanng, mul naengmyeon has an array of sweet and salty flavors for you to try. For example, vinegar and mustard oil goes well with this.

In restaurants, you can ask your servers to add it to the mul naengmyeon, and they will.

Outside of tradition, there are different ways to serve this dish. For example, there’s a version of it in the South Jeolla Province that mixes in red chili paste. 

That makes it more like bibim naengmyeon, except in this version, mul naengmyeon actually does get served in broth.

Eating Bibim Naengmyeon

Bibim naengmyeon (비빔 냉면) is a variant of naengmyeon that has a spicy dressing made from red chili paste, called gochujang (고추장). 

Gochujang has a very savory, sweet, and spicy taste. Its main ingredient is gochugaru (고춧가루), which is chili powder or flakes.

Unlike mul naengmyeon, bibim naengmyeon originates from Hamhung. The version that comes from Hamhung is actually named something unique: hoe naengmyeon (회 냉면). 

It’s called this because in North Korea, they like to add a raw marinated fish called a skate.

Hoe is a word that refers to the varieties of raw food eaten in Korean cuisine. That’s why the noodles aren’t called bibim naengmyeon, but hoe naengmyeon instead. 

It’s a type of food eaten with gochujang and other spicy meals. If you like spice, you should give it a try.

The noodles are made with potato or sweet potato starch to give it more taste. That makes the noodles chewier than the mul naengmyeon noodles. 

Fun fact: another name for this dish in North Korea is myeongtae hoe naengmyeon (명태회냉면). 

The reason why it has yet another name is because it’s a distinct type of hoe naengmyeon. Instead of using the skate fish, it uses a one called pollock (명태). 

Since the name for pollock in Korean is myeongtae, that creates the new name of myeongtae hoe naengmyeon.

Conclusion

Originating from North Korea, naengmyeon is a cold noodle dish served in chilled broth. It comes from long and thin, handmade noodles that are made from starch and flour. 

There are several variants of naengmyeon depending on the core ingredients.

This dish is served each season, even in the winter. The most common flavors are sweet and meaty. Naengmyeon was created back during the Joseon Dynasty in North Korea. 

For tradition, the noodles aren’t cut, but in modern times, you can request to cut the noodles.

There are a couple ways you can try naengmyeon. Different types of naengmyeon exist. There’s mul naengmyeon, which is a cold noodle soup made from meat broth. 

On the other hand, there’s bibim naengmyeon, which is made with red chili paste.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul over 4 years and during that time, he has experienced a lot of the city's quirks and charms. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others who are interested in learning more about South Korea.

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