Korean noodles are called ‘guksu’ or ‘myeon’. They are mostly made of buckwheat or wheat flour. Some starches are also used in variations. Because Koreans love hot soup, most of the traditional Korean meals are served with ‘guk’ (hot soup) or jjigae (similar to stew). Koreans have enjoyed noodles in the same way. Hot soup based noodles called ‘onmyeon’ (‘on’ means warm) and cold noodles are called ‘naengmyeon’ (‘naeng’ means cold).
Onmyeon (온면/Warm Noodles)
Japchae is not only one of the most popular Korean noodles but in all Korean food dishes to foreigners. It is stir-fried sweet potato starch noodles with vegetables and a little bit of meat of your choice seasoning with soy sauce, sweetener, and sesame oil. Japchae was originally stir-fried vegetables with mushrooms and served to the kings in the Joseon Dynasty. However, it eventually became popular among common people as party food. People added some other ingredients like noodles and meat and the dish has been developed to the modern japchae.
2. Kalguksu and Sujebie
Kalguksu is a soothing Korean noodle soup. ‘Kal’ in the name means a knife and, as the name indicates, the soup is made with handmade knife-cut wheat flour noodles. The noodles typically have a thin flat shape and a bit bouncy texture.
This Korean noodle comes in a variety, usually depending on how to make the broth. Different regions use different ingredients to make broth: anchovies in Busan and Gyeongsangnam-do, beef bone broth in Seoul, anchovies and chicken broth in Gyeonggi-do, clams, and seafood in Jeolla-do, and more.
Kalguksu is cooked with sliced vegetables such as onion, zucchini, and carrot. Typically this noodle soup is not spicy unlike many other Korean dishes. But, of course, there is always a variation for pepper-loving people.
3. Janchi Guksu
Janchi guksu is usually made with dried seafood broth and thin noodles called somyeon similar to ones in angel hair pasta. It also has some garnishes called gomyeong on top such as julienned and stir-fried zucchinis, carrots, and eggs that add vibrant colors to the dish. ‘Janchi’ means feasts in Korean. Historically, common people usually served this dish for their parties, especially for weddings wishing for longevity in marriage. There is a Korean slang “When are you feeding me janchi guksu?”, which means “when are you going to marry?” Janchi guksu is relatively easy to cook in a large quantity, so it is still a popular menu in gatherings in South Korea.
Jjajangmyeon is one of the most popular and common Korean noodles in South Korea. However, the noodle did not originally come from Korea. A Chinese immigrant chef in Incheon adjusted the recipe of his hometown dish called Zhajiangmian to serve Koreans in the very early 20th century. This fusion noodle became very popular among Koreans and developed into a few variations. Usually, jjajang sauce is made of fried chunjang, sweet bean paste, with vegetables and meat is served on top of the hot noodles. As time has gone by, Jjajangmyeon and Zhajiangmian have become two different dishes.
Naengmyeon (냉면/Cold Noodles)
1. Mul Naengmyeon
‘Mul’ in the name of noodle means water and mul naengmyeon is served with cold broth and cold noodles. We can find the dish’s origin in North Korea. Generally, when you ask for Pyongyang naengmyeon, it means mul naengmyeon. Mul naengmyeon traditionally uses beef or pheasant broth and it has a mild taste so vinegar and spicy mustard are served together on the side. You can find the spicy sauce called ‘dadaegi’ in some areas. Noodles are usually made from buckwheat flour and starch. How much buckwheat flour is included in the noodle decides how chewy it is. More buckwheat means less chewiness. Seasoned mul kimchi soup such as dongchimi and yeolmoo is also used as a simple mul naengmyeon soup base.
2. Bibim Naengmyeon
Bibim naengmyeon is a spicy cold noodle. It usually has more starch in noodles compared to mul naengmyeon. Thin chewy cold noodles are a key player in this spicy naengmyeon. However, it is very hard to cut noodles with your teeth so don’t be surprised when your host or server brings you a pair of scissors. Although, nowadays, it is common to cut the noodle, traditionally people eat them in length, wishing for longevity in life. Gochujang-based sweet and spicy sauce is served with garnishes such as pickled radish, cucumber, and half a hard-boiled egg. Hamhung, a city in North Korea, is famous for the place of bibim naengmyeon.
3. Bibim Guksu
Bibim guksu is very similar to bibim naengmyeon. It is also spicy cold noodles. This one uses somyeon while bibim naengmeyon uses buckwheat-based noodles. Somyeon, dried thin flour noodles, is cheaper than naengmyeon noodles. So this dish is more popular and easier to find in bunsick restaurants, Korean style fast food restaurants among Korean noodles.
Milmyeon is also similar to Naengmyeon and it has both mul milmyeon and bibim milmyeon. One of the refugees at the refugee camp in Busan during the Korean War first invented milmyeon out of the need for North Korean-style naengmyeon. It was hard to find buckwheat flour during wartime and even after for a while, so people mixed starch with flour to mimic the chewiness of the noodles of naengmyeon. ‘Mil’ means wheat flour in Korean. Other than that, everything else is quite the same. Mul milmyeon uses the same broth as mul naengmyeon does, and bimbim milmyeon uses the same sweet and spicy sauce. While the noodle has a sad history, the taste of it is so good ironically.
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Korean Food (Pork Dishes)
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