Mul-Naengmyeon (Korean Cold Noodle Soup)
Mul-naengmyeon is a chilled Korean noodle dish that is refreshing for the summer. Thin and chewy buckwheat noodles are served in an icy cold and savory, beef-based broth. You also get crunchy, tangy bites of pickled radish and cucumber that make it extra crisp and delicious for those hot summer days.
Mul-naengmyeon (물냉면) is a Korean cold noodle dish that is served in an icy and savory beef-based broth with some sweet and tangy pickled toppings.
Its name distinguishes it from another Korean cold noodle dish called bibim-naengmyeon. Mul (물) means water and naengmyeon (냉면) means cold noodles.
Bibim-naengmyeon means mixed cold noodles. It’s made with the same buckwheat noodles, and is instead mixed with a spicy and slightly sweet gochujang-based sauce.
It’s now a popular and perfect dish to have on a hot day. However, back when it was first made during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), it was only enjoyed during the cold winter months since there were no refrigerators or freezers.
Mul-naengmyeon was first made in North Korea and only became popular in South Korea after the Korean War. That’s also why it’s commonly known as Pyongyang naengmyeon (평양냉면).
The soup base is made with beef brisket that is slowly simmered to produce a rich broth. Other aromatics such as white peppercorn and ginger are added for a crisp, peppery flavor. There’s also some leek in addition to yellow onion for its sweeter onion flavor. Finally, dried anchovy and dashima are added for extra umami and depth of flavor.
Once the broth is done simmering, it is seasoned with soy sauce, salt, and mirin. Just a pinch of coconut sugar is added for sweetness to round out the savory soup.
It’s also common to add dongchimi broth to mul-naengmyeon. Dongchimi (동치미) is Korean radish water kimchi. It is sweet and tangy and only slightly spicy if you prepare it with some red long hot peppers. Homemade dongchimi is fairly easy to make. However, it does take some time and planning ahead if you want to use it in your mul-naengmyeon broth. If you want to skip the extra work, you could also buy it pre-made at your local Korean grocery store (e.g., H-mart).
The first form of mul-naengmyeon was actually purely made with icy dongchimi broth back in the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1382). Over time, Koreans started to use a beef or chicken broth for mul-naengmyeon.
When the dish is ready and assembled with the cold soup, noodles, and toppings it is also served with sides of rice vinegar and yellow mustard. You could mix these condiments into the mul-naengmyeon soup for extra flavor. While it is also totally optional, I highly recommend adding maybe a teaspoon of each to your mul-naengmyeon. The rice vinegar makes it extra tangy and refreshing, and the mustard gives the broth some kick and spice. You could also add more salt to taste.
Noodles for naengmyeon
Thin buckwheat noodles are specifically used in naengmyeon. These noodles are also made with sweet potato and are chewier in texture than regular buckwheat noodles.
I’ve read that buckwheat grows well in high altitudes and mountains. As you’ve read earlier in this blog post, mul-naengmyeon was first made in the mountains. And so, it is unsurprising that these buckwheat noodles were naturally used in this noodle soup.
Toppings for Mul-naengmyeon
The beef brisket that was used to prepare the broth is sliced thinly, against the grain and is served as one of the few toppings in mul-naengmyeon. Mu chojeorim (무초저림) or thin wide strips of sweet pickled radish and thinly sliced cucumbers are also important toppings as they add some tang, texture, and crunch.
Julienned Asian pear could also be added too for a sweet and juicy element. While it definitely is a delicious addition, I do find the other toppings more important in making this dish.
Finally, I highly recommend topping the dish off with a halved, soft-boiled egg. It adds another dimension of texture and is another great protein to have with this dish. Also, who doesn’t love a custardy, rich yolk center of a soft-boiled egg?
Tips for making mul-naengmyeon
- Make the broth ahead of time. Chill the broth in the freezer for a few hours to make icy and slushy. The cold noodles will taste extra refreshing on a hot day.
- Rinse the noodles with cold water. After cooking the noodles in boiling water, rinse them under cold water. This helps prevent them from sticking together.
- Serve with Korean BBQ. Mul-naengmyeon is commonly served following a meal of grilled galbi or bulgogi. It almost acts like a palate cleanser and cuts some of the grease after eating a full meal of grilled meat.
Other cold noodles dishes:
Mise en place
Mul-Naengmyeon (Korean Cold Noodle Soup)
- 360 g dried buckwheat noodles
- 1½ lb beef brisket
- 1 pack dried anchovy and dashima
- 1 leek, bottom ⅔
- 16 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp white peppercorn
- 5 g ginger, peeled
- 1 onion, peeled
- 12½ cups water
Broth Seasoning Ingredients
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tsp coconut sugar
- 2 tsp salt, or TT
Pickled Korean Radish Topping
- 2 cups Korean radish, cut into thin wide strips (about 300g)
- 4 tbsp rice vinegar
- 4 tbsp coconut sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp gochugaru
- 4 mini cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup coconut sugar
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 2 soft-boiled eggs, halved (optional, see notes)
- 1 Asian pear, peeled, cut, & julienned (optional)
- Pickled Korean Radish Topping: Place the sliced Korean radish into a sealable food container. Mix together the rice vinegar, coconut sugar, salt, and gochugaru in a small bowl and then toss the mixture with the sliced Korean radish until they are evenly coated. Seal the container and let it sit in the fridge.
- Pickled Cucumber Topping: Place the sliced cucumbers into a sealable food container. Mix the cucumber with the rice vinegar, coconut sugar, and salt until they are evenly coated. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze out some of the water from the cucumbers. This will make it extra crunchy. Seal the container and let it sit in the fridge.
- Soak the brisket in cold water for about 45 minutes, changing the water every 15 minutes. Drain the water.
- Add beef brisket and other broth ingredients to a large pot with 12½ cups of water and bring it to a boil. Skim off the scum with a fine mesh strainer as it comes to a boil. This will help you get a clearer broth.
- Let it simmer for 15 minutes and remove the dried anchovy and dashima pack. Let it simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Discard the aromatics (leek, onion, garlic, ginger, peppercorn) from the broth, and mix in the broth seasoning ingredients.
- Let the beef brisket slightly cool, and then cut thinly against the grain into 2-3" pieces.
- Leave the broth in the fridge to cool until chilled. (You could also put it in the fridge for a few hours until it gets icy and slushy.)
- Cook the buckwheat noodles in boiling water for about 4 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain noodles in a colander and rinse it under cold water until the noodles are cooled down.
- Divide the noodles into four bowls, add some chilled broth, and toppings. Serve immediately with sides of salt, rice vinegar and yellow mustard and season to taste. (Galbi or Korean BBQ is commonly served with mul-naengmyeon.)