BY ADELINE LIM
North Korea is well known as the Hermit Kingdom. Its isolationist practices and strange combination of reverence and fear towards its leaders have set it apart from other nations for many decades. Despite it all, North Korea’s Naengmyeon is well known among connoisseurs of Korean cuisine. It became popular after the Korean War when defectors and refugees who fled the North started popularising it in restaurants they set up.
I was introduced to this dish during an adventurous foray into the Hermit Kingdom – flying into Pyongyang from China and diplomatically sightseeing what I was allowed to see over a span of three days.
What is Naengmyeon?
The North Koreans are very proud of their dish Naengmyeon, which literally means ‘noodles in a chilled broth’. It is buckwheat noodles served with a cold dongchimi broth – a clear consommé-like broth with a subtle radish taste, garnished with julienned cucumbers, grated white radish (also known as daikon), roasted sesame seeds and kimchi. There are two types of naengmyeon dishes – one served in a clear beef broth or dongchimi. The other is mixed with gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) and gochujang (red chili paste) for a spicier kick.
In South Korea, the people there love a cold bowl of Naengmyeon in the heat of summer. In North Korea, this dish is traditionally a winter delicacy – which sounds rather odd, given that the North Korean winters are brutal. The reason behind this is two-fold – firstly, everything is frozen in North Korea during the winter, so even the earthenware jars that are buried in the ground have a layer of ice over the top layer. Secondly, because white radish, the main ingredient to make the broth, is a winter vegetable.
If you ever have a chance to taste this amazing dish in South Korea, or better still, in its origin of Pyongyang, North Korea, grab that opportunity. The Naengmyeon noodles are bouncy, have a wonderful chewy consistency and that broth… subtle, delicate and oh so refreshing!
About the author
Adeline Lim is a serial traveller with an insatiable appetite for good food. She eats almost everything, and is willing to try anything; she loves her beer and wine and everything in between. More about Adeline here.