My Citizens, one of the most important diplomatic meetings in recent memory is happening in 2 days between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea.
These negotiations are delicate in the extreme, and I – the incarnation of diplomacy that is TFD! – have decided to honor the meeting with a recipe that some consider the national dish of North Korea!
Naengmyeon (냉면; 冷麵, in S. Korea) or raengmyŏn (랭면, in N. Korea) is a Korean noodle dish of long and thin handmade noodles made from the flour and starch of various ingredients, including buckwheat (메밀, memil), potatoes, sweet potatoes, arrowroot starch (darker color and chewier than buckwheat noodles), and kudzu (칡, chik).
Buckwheat predominates (despite the name, it is not a wheat but rather is more closely related to sorrel – it’s actually a grass!). Other varieties of naengmyeon are made from ingredients such as seaweed and green tea.
According to the 19th-century documents of Dongguksesigi (동국세시기, 東國歲時記), naengmyeon has been made since the Joseon Dynasty. Originally a delicacy in northern Korea, especially in the cities of Pyongyang (평양) and Hamhung (함흥) in North Korea, naengmyeon became widely popular throughout Korea after the Korean War.
Naengmyeon is served in a large stainless-steel bowl with a tangy iced broth, julienned cucumbers, slices of Korean pear, thin, wide strips of lightly pickled radish, and either a boiled egg or slices of cold boiled beef or both.
Spicy mustard sauce (or mustard oil) and vinegar are often added before consumption. Traditionally, the long noodles would be eaten without cutting, as they symbolized longevity of life and good health, but servers at restaurants usually ask if the noodles should be cut prior to eating, and use scissors to cut the noodles.
The two main varieties of naengmyeon are mul naengmyeon (물 냉면) and bibim naengmyeon (비빔 냉면). The former is served as a cold soup with the noodles contained in broth made from beef, chicken or dongchimi.
Mul naengmyeon originates from Pyongyang. Pyŏngyang naengmyŏn is mainly made from buckwheat and the broth of beef or pheasant. It also uses dongchimi broth or a mixture of it, while adding the sliced pieces of the radish to the dish. Vinegar, mustard oil (provided on request at most restaurants), and sugar is added according to taste before eating. South Koreans do not add sugar and use beef broth exclusively.
As noted on the excellent blog koreanbapsang.com:
What’s your favorite food for hot summer days? In Korea, cold noodles are extremely popular in the summer. Among many varieties of cold noodle dishes, naengmyeon (냉면) is at the top in popularity ranking! Naengmyeon is a cold noodle dish of thin, chewy noodles that are made with buckwheat and potato or sweet potato starch.
There are two main types of naengmyeon dishes depending on how it’s prepared – mul naengmyeon (물냉면) and bibim naengmyeon (비빔냉면). For mul naengmyeon, the noodles are served in a clear, refreshing broth that’s typically made with beef broth and/or dongchimi (동치미, radish water kimchi) broth. For bibim naengmyeon, the noodles are mixed in a red, spicy sauce.
Mul naengmyeon is commonly known as Pyeongyang (평양) naengmyeon in Korea while bibim naengmyeon is known as Hamheung (함흥) naengmyeon. Pyeongyang and Hamheung are North Korean cities.
These naengmyeon dishes became popular in South Korea after the Korean war by the people who fled the North during the war. Pyeongyang naengmyeon noodles are made with much more buckwheat than starch, and traditionally enjoyed in icy cold dongchimi broth in the winter. Hamheung naengmyeon noodles are made mostly with potato or sweet potato starch, so they are thinner and chewier.
Various types of naengmyeon noodles are sold commercially – dried, refrigerated, and frozen. Some packages include pouches of premade broth or spicy sauce, which are pretty popular in Korea for quick, convenient meals. They tend to be more expensive, so if you’re making naengmyeon from scratch, only buy noodles.
Dongchimi (동치미) is a mild water-based kimchi made with a small variety of white radish called dongchimi mu. It’s typically made in late fall, when radishes (무) are in season, and eaten in the winter. The word dongchimi means “winter water kimchi“. Traditionally, dongchimi is made with whole radishes and therefore takes weeks to mature.
This recipe is a quick version which is commonly called “summer dongchimi” in Korea. The radishes are cut into small pieces for quick salting and maturing.
Within two days at room temperature, you’ll see bubbles rising through the brine which is a sign of active fermentation. I had some trouble finding good radishes this summer, so I used a little bit of sugar here to balance out the bitter taste of summer radish.
The good news is that radish season is right around the corner. Soon, you’ll be able to find sweet, juicy, and crunchy Korean radishes, which will be perfect for this recipe!
During fermentation, healthy bacteria, acidity and sweetness develop, producing a tangy, refreshing broth with perfectly pickled radish. Due to a digestive enzyme (diastase) that is plentiful in radishes, this kimchi promotes digestion, which is why it pairs especially well with meat dishes or starch heavy foods such as rice cakes.
The broth (국물) is great as a soup base for cold noodles like naengmyeon (냉면) and dongchimi guksu (동치미 국수). Try this recipe, and find out how easy it is to make with only a few ingredients. I guarantee you will be hooked forever!
Citizens, I have based my version of the recipe on the excellent one from koreabapsang.com – with one key change. I use the original meat for this special recipe – pheasant! You can buy both the whole pheasant and the boneless breast meat here.
Pray to whatever God(s) you recognize that this meeting of nations goes well!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
The Hirshon North Korean Mul Naengmyeon – 물냉면
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