One of my favorite Korean dishes is also one of the simplest and most straightforward to make! The Bibim-naengmyeon is literally broth, sauce, and noodles– DONE!
Since I’ve been writing about Korea lately, it seems like the perfect opportunity to introduce you guys to one of my absolute favorite Korean dishes in the universe: the Bibim-Naengmyeon [비빔냉면]. It’s probably a combination of a love for Asian noodles and spicy things that created this love for bibim-naengmyeon. I honestly never expected to like cold noodles but between this and cold soba and cold ramen, I seem to have no issues with the temperature as long as I’m eating Asian noodles.
Naengmyeon is actually a popular dish within Korea. It’s so popular that it has a song! A slightly comedic one that became a hit nonetheless. But actually I am not really largely fond of just naengmyeon. I prefer BIBIM-naengmyeon, which is the spicier, less icy brother of the normal naengmyeon.
The reason why it has the word ‘bibim’ in front is because it has a red sauce and some toppings on it that you mix into the noodles before you eat. Similar indeed to the bibimbap. Fun fact: ‘bibim’ actually means ‘to mix’, while ‘naeng myeon’ means ‘cold noodles’ and ‘bap’ means ‘rice’. The mixing part is part of the fun. It’s also essential to distribute all those flavors of the sauce.
With naengmyeon, usually you are also provided with a pair of scissors to cut the noodles with first before you mix. Since the noodles are typically REALLY long, cutting them down to manageable shorter strands is the normal thing to do. It’s honestly very very hard to slurp an entire strand of uncut naengmyeon noodle. It seems to never end! Once cut up though, you’ll have a pleasurably saucy, cold noodle dish to slurp and enjoy.
One of the best features of the bibim-naengmyeon is that it uses a chewy type of noodles that is large part buckwheat and small parts potato and arrowroot starch. It is just a little finer than japchae noodles, which uses sweet potato-based glass noodles. It does have the same sort of bouncy bite though.
The buckwheat noodles used for bibim-naengmyeon can be found in ALL Korean grocery stores in Manila. This is the only brand I can recommend since it’s the only one I’ve ever tried and I immediately stuck to it. These kinds of naengmyeon packs typically comes with pouches of the broth already, so you don’t need to boil anchovies and seaweed anymore. The one I always turn to is a recipe from Maangchi, since it makes use of the soup packs that comes with the noodles.
Because you no longer need to actually cook your own broth, that’s like half the work done already. That is why I love this recipe so much. It’s a shortcut recipe that yields some truly awesome bibim-naengmyeon. The back of the packaging usually teaches you how to make a normal naengmyeon, but because this is bibim-naengmyeon, you have to take an extra step and make the red sauce.
So to start, you make the normal broth and pop it in the freezer until it turns slushy. Normally I skip this step and just pop some ice into the broth while I prepare the rest of the noodle components. I put this entire bowl in the fridge to keep it cool.
Next, I cook the noodles according to package instructions. Uncooked buckwheat noodles look brown and tough, but once cooked, the color and appearance of the noodles change drastically. What you want to get are noodles with a good chew to them but without a hard uncooked center.
Immediately strain and run the noodles under cold water, washing them with your hands to keep them from sticking together and to remove any excess starch. Now you dump the noodles in a bowl with icy water and give it a final rinse. Once noodles have completely cooled down and are cold, they are ready to be placed into serving bowls.
The sauce is pretty easy, and it’s really a combination of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. You have Korean pear as a main ingredient for the sweet part, alongside brown sugar and rice syrup. Then you also have garlic and red pepper paste, as well as some vinegar to balance things out. The sesame oil adds a nutty sort of flavor. I normally just dump all my sauce ingredients into one of those single-serve blenders with the sports bottles on top.
The sauce for the bibim-naengmyeon is something I would categorize as a flavor that wakes up the tastebuds. As humble as this dish looks, that sauce packs all the flavors you might possibly want in one: From sweet to salty to just a touch sour to nutty and spicy. I guess that’s the reason why I always crave it. It satisfies my tastebuds and also satisfies the need to eat something substantial thanks to the chewy noodles.
Bibim-naengmyeon is always worth the trip to the Korean grocery store. ALWAYS. But if you’re in doubt and you want to try this first before attempting it at home, the one they serve at Seoul Train in Quezon City is actually REALLY good.
- 1 package of the broth base that comes with the naengmyeon noodles
- 2 cups water
- 1 Korean pear
- 1 English cucumber, cut into thin strips about 4 inches long
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons diced onion
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup gochugaru, hot pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons gochujang, red pepper paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 cup rice syrup
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 servings of storebought dried naengmyeon noodles
- 1 hard boiled egg, shelled and halved
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds, whole or ground
Prepare the broth
- In a bowl, mix together the broth base and water. Freeze for 2 to 3 hours, just until it turns slushy. (If you are unable to make the broth in advance, just mix the broth base with 1 cup of cold water and about 10 ice cubes. Keep it in the freezer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.)
Prepare the garnish
- Mix 1 cup of cold water with 1 teaspoon sugar in a bowl. This sugar water is for soaking the pear and stopping it from browning. Peel the pear and cut into halves, then remove the core. Roughly chop and set aside half of the pear for the sauce. Slice the other half into thin matchsticks for garnish later on. Soak the pear in the sugar water before use. Slice the cucumber into thin matchsticks as well.
Make the sauce
- In a food processor, grind together the half pear, garlic, ginger, onion, green onions, gochugaru, gochujang, soy sauce, salt, sugar, rice syrup, vinegar, and sesame oil. Process until sauce looks creamy. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the noodles
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add in the noodles and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover and let cook for 3 to 5 minutes. To check if the noodles are ready, take a little piece to taste. When you chew the noodles, it shouldn't have a hard bite in the center. Immediately strain the noodles and rinse in cold running water.
- Rub the noodles with both hands under running water to remove any excess starch. The noodles should turn cold and chewy. Fill a large bowl with cold water and some ice cubes, then give the noodles a final rinse in the icy water. Drain and divide them into 2 large but shallow serving bowls. Pile the noodles into a tall mound.
- Take the icy broth out of the freezer and pour some into each serving bowl, right over the noodles. Do not pour all the way up until the noodles are covered. Covering the noodle mound halfway should be enough.
- Place some spicy sauce over the noodles. Take your prepared garnish and arrange them on top of the sauce. Sprinkle a heap of sesame seeds on top and carefully place half an egg in each bowl.
- Serve right away. Make sure to mix thoroughly before digging in. The noodles may be very long, so use kitchen scissors to snip them into shorter pieces before eating.