Cold noodles craze raises curiosity

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Cold noodles craze raises curiosity

The song “Naengmyeon,” which means cold noodles in Korean, suddenly became hugely popular last week.

It is an easy song with simple words such as, “The cold makes me shiver/ You are so tough/ But I still love you.”

After it was featured on the MBC TV program “Infinite Challenge” on July 11, it suddenly rocketed to the No. 1 spot on various charts.

The consistently hot weather of the monsoon season probably had an effect on the popularity of the song, too.

Each summer, people line up in front of famous restaurants that serve naengmyeon. I’m not sure when this trend started. But, according to the writer Sung Suk-jae, written works from the 1930s include stories about the pleasures of cold noodles.

The 1939 essay by Lee Hyo-suk titled “Yookyung Shikbo,” or “Dieting on Nourishments,” says, “Pyongyang cold noodles seem to be famous but they are not whiter than Seoul cold noodles.”

And articles on group food poisoning from cold noodle restaurants in the summer are said to have appeared almost every year since 1929, according to “Korean Food: The Tasty Birth,” by Kim Chan-byul.

So it seems that cold noodles have been a part of our restaurant industry for a long time.

Thinking a little more about the topic makes one wonder how cold noodles came to be so popular in Korea. There are many countries where the weather is much hotter, and more than a few countries have an even bigger love of noodles in general. Italy, the land of spaghetti, has dishes with cold noodles ? but only in the form of pasta salad.

It is not easy to find cold noodles among the dishes that represent our neighboring countries. China has foods like liang mien or lung ban mien, but they are nothing more than basic mixed noodle meals. Northeastern-style, or Joseon, cold noodles are starting to enter the Chinese market due to the influences of North Korea and Yanbian.

There is a cold noodle dish in Japan called hiyashi chuka, but even the name shows that it is not regarded a Japanese dish, because “chuka” literally means “Chinese food.” The only dish that is as well known as Korean naengmyeon is buckwheat soba, which is chilled and eaten with a dipping sauce. However, even soba is different from the Korean noodles that chase away the heat as people gulp down the cold meat stock. Enthusiastic Pyongyang naengmyeon lovers point out that the middle of winter, not summer, is the right season to eat naengmyeon. The true taste, they say, can be appreciated when you finish a bowl of cold watery kimchi and meat stock and walk out on the street to have the cold wind blow in your face. How did Korean people end up with such peculiar habits?


The writer is the contents director at JES Entertainment.


By Song Won-sup [five@joongang.co.kr]
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