05/23/2024

The Ultimate Summer Dish: Mul Naengmyeon (Korean Cold Noodle Soup). Two Authentic Versions: Pyeongyang Style vs. Southern Style. Cool down with these refreshing, chewy noodles in icy broth.

Mul Naengmyeon, a Korean chilled noodle soup, is traditionally enjoyed in icy cold form during the summer in Korea. However, it originated as a winter dish in North Korea, which holds sentimental value for my family as my parents are from there. This special dish holds a cherished place in our hearts and was frequently enjoyed by our entire family.

It became our regular Sunday lunch tradition, following our return from church. My mom has such a deep love for it that she jokingly claims to have an extra stomach dedicated solely to Mul Naengmyeon. This allows her to consume double her usual portion when enjoying this dish!

My dad also developed a great fondness for the authentic Northern-style Naengmyeon. As a result, I grew up experiencing various versions of Naengmyeon at home, my grandparents’ houses, my aunts’ homes, and numerous restaurants. I’ve had it all, you name it.

Therefore, I might be considered a bit of a snob when it comes to this Korean cold noodle soup. Somehow, many restaurants just can’t seem to get it right. There’s a local establishment in our area that is somewhat renowned for their naengmyeon (although why it’s famous, I’ll never understand), and people endure long queues just to have a taste.

I decided to give them two chances (just to be fair), but unfortunately, the second time was even worse. It was excessively sweet and lacked any other flavors except for sourness and sweetness.

I had the urge to scream at the people around me, “No! This is not how Naengmyeon is supposed to taste!” That’s why, most of the time, I refrain from ordering this dish at restaurants unless I am confident that they specialize in it, like Wooraeok (both in Seoul and the US). However, I believe this recipe will make both my mom and dad proud… 

The Origins and History of Mul Naengmyeon

Mul Naengmyeon, when translated literally, means “water cold noodles” (mul = 물 = water, naeng = 냉 = cold, myeon = 면 = noodles). It is a term used to describe all types of cold noodle dishes served with a cold soup. However, if you order Mul Naengmyeon at a restaurant in South Korea, the soup will typically be served in the South Korean style, which is sweet and tangy.

Unless a restaurant explicitly states that they specialize in the Northern-style Pyeongyang Naengmyeon (이북식 or yibuksik), the broth will not have a sweet or sour taste.

The history of Naengmyeon dates back to the 17th century during the Joseon Dynasty in the northern part of Korea. At that time, noodles were primarily made from 100% buckwheat (maemil 메밀) since buckwheat noodles lacked gluten and became brittle in warm broth. However, when they tried serving them in a cold soup, it worked perfectly!

Back then, regular flour noodles were not available because wheat was not a native crop in Korea. Wheat flour had to be imported from China, so only the wealthy and royals could afford to eat dishes made with flour. It was only after the Korean war, when larger quantities of flour were imported, that Koreans started consuming more noodles and bread than rice.

During that period, noodles were made from either rice or buckwheat. In the northern part of Korea, where rice cultivation was challenging due to the weather, buckwheat was more prevalent. Towards the end of the fall, which coincided with the buckwheat harvest, North Koreans would also prepare Dongchimi (Winter Radish Water Kimchi). This Dongchimi juice was often added to the cold noodle soup, giving rise to the famous Pyongyang Naengmyeon. Hence, the name Dongchimi Naengmyeon was used to highlight the inclusion of Dongchimi juice in the dish.

Different styles of Mul Naengmyeon include:

  1. Pyongyang Naengmyeon: Originally from the region of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, this style is most famous for its clean and refreshing beef broth. Traditionally, Dongchimi (radish water kimchi) juice is added to enhance the flavor. The soup has a mild beef taste without being sweet or sour.
  2. Yeolmu Naengmyeon: This variation, believed to be created later in the South, incorporates Yeolmu Kimchi (young radish water kimchi) into the soup along with the greens. This version of Mul Naengmyeon is spicy, sweet, and tangy.
  3. Dongchimi Naengmyeon: This style is essentially Pyongyang Naengmyeon with additional Dongchimi juice added to the broth.

I have shared two versions of Mul Naengmyeon below, representing the Northern and Southern styles. Since everyone has different preferences, I encourage you to try both broth recipes and see which style you prefer. The Pyongyang style may not immediately appeal to your palate, but you will come to appreciate its simplicity, cleanliness, and refreshing flavor.

Mastering the Art of Making Mul Naengmyeon: Pro Tips and Techniques

  • Beef shank is the preferred choice for its low fat content, making it ideal for Mul Naengmyeon. The boiled beef shank meat, known as suyuk, is delicious whether served cold or warm due to its minimal fat. However, if you prefer a leaner option, you can use brisket instead.
  • Ensure that your soup or broth is well chilled. If you don’t have time to refrigerate it, you can serve the soup with ice cubes. In my recipe, I season the soup slightly aggressively to account for the dilution caused by the ice and wet noodles. However, it’s important not to add more than 3-4 ice cubes per bowl.
  • Avoid overcooking the noodles by using a timer and following the package instructions. Stir the noodles immediately after adding them to prevent them from clumping together.
  • Rinse the noodles in ice-cold water 2-3 times to maintain their chewiness and prevent sticking.
  • Don’t let the noodles sit for too long, and it’s best not to have leftover noodles once they have been refrigerated as they won’t have the same texture.
  • Prepare the beef broth ahead of time, even up to 2-3 days in advance, and store it in the refrigerator.
  • Always serve vinegar and yellow mustard, allowing your guests to season their soup according to their taste preferences.
  • For an icy, slushy-like noodle soup, freeze the broth for a few hours until it reaches a slushy consistency. Alternatively, you can freeze it overnight and then defrost it in the fridge until ready to use. If necessary, you can break it up and scrape it with a fork.

Crafting Delicious Mul Naengmyeon: Simple Steps to Success

How to Make Authentic Beef Broth and Suyuk in Your Kitchen

  1. Prepare the meat – if you are using beef shank, cut it into halves to reduce the cooking time. Beef shank purchased from Korean markets is often already cut in this way.
Beef shank (Satae)

You can trim off the sinew slightly, but it is not necessary.

Beef shank ready to cook in pot
  1. Make the beef broth: Place beef shank, whole small onion, garlic cloves, ginger, and water in a pot. (Refer to the Recipe Card for precise measurements for each method below).
  • On the stovetop – bring to a boil, then simmer on medium-low heat for about 2 hours and 30 to 40 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the meat.
  • In the Instant Pot – cook for 35 minutes on manual high pressure, followed by a natural release for 15 minutes or more, and then perform a quick release to open. 
  1. After the beef is cooked, let it cool for 10 minutes and remove it from the broth. Place the meat on a cutting board and allow it to cool for a few minutes until it is cool enough to handle. Keep the beef covered while it cools to prevent it from drying out.
Beef shank cooked in instant pot for beef broth
  1. Strain the beef broth through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into a bowl or container.
Strain broth through a fine sieve
  1. Chill the beef broth in the refrigerator. For a faster result, you can create an ice bath in a sink or a large bowl and cool the broth by placing the container in the ice bath. Just a heads up – for 1.5 lb of shank, you should yield about 1 quart of broth. 
  1. Slice the beef thinly against the grain. Look at how delicious it looks! I personally enjoy the chewy sinew that runs through the meat. Serve it at room temperature or chilled from the fridge, accompanied by some vinegar soy sauce
Suyuk (boiled beef shank) sliced – at sunset time outside
  1. Remove any solidified fat bits from the chilled beef broth. You can easily absorb it using a paper towel or a fat-absorbing paper. Since beef shank has minimal fat, there won’t be a significant amount of fat to remove. 
  2. Season the cold broth from step 7 with Guk Ganjang (Soup Soy Sauce), sea salt, and a couple of tablespoons each of the pickling liquid from steps 2 and 3. Refrigerate the broth until it’s time to serve.
Fully seasoned Mul Naengmyeon broth

How to Make Flavorful Mul Naengmyeon Toppings

While you wait for the beef to cook, prepare the pickled cucumbers

How to pickle cucumbers (Oi Chojeolim)
  1. Cut the cucumbers into angled slices or rectangular pieces, according to your preference. 
  2. In a bowl, combine the cucumbers with vinegar, salt, and sugar, and mix well. Allow it to sit for approximately 10-15 minutes until the cucumbers become pickled and appear limp, as shown in the picture. 
  3. For an extra crunchy texture (optional), once the cucumbers are fully pickled, you can place them in a fine cheesecloth or cotton cloth and squeeze out any excess liquid. 
  4. Do not discard the liquid, as it can be used for extra crunchy cucumber toppings. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the pickled cucumbers until you are ready to serve.

Pickle Radish

How to pickle radish (Mu Chojeolim)
  1. Cut a 1-inch thick disc from the radish, peel it, and then cut it vertically into thin strips.
  1. In a bowl, combine the cut radish with vinegar, salt, and sugar, and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the radish until you are ready to serve. Remember to save the liquid that accumulates for seasoning the broth.
  2. Prepare hard-boiled eggs by using your preferred method. Once cooked, peel the eggs and cut them in half. Set them aside.
  3. To make yellow mustard, mix approximately 2 teaspoons of mustard powder with 3 teaspoons of water. Alternatively, you can use a ready-made tube of mustard, although it may not be as flavorful. I recommend using S&B Mustard Powder.
Oriental Hot Mustard
  1. Slice the Asian pear into thin slices. (OPTIONAL).
How to cut Asian Pear for Mul Naengmyeon

How to Make Perfectly Chewy ‘Al Dente’ Naengmyeon Noodles

  1. Add your noodles to a pot of boiling water and cook them according to the package directions. However, I usually cook them for a shorter time to achieve extra chewy, al dente noodles. Make sure to stir the noodles while cooking and it’s always a good idea to taste them to check if they’re done.
My Favorite Mul Naengymeon Brands 

Read more about Dry Naengmyeon Noodles ingredient.

Noodles are not yet done
  • For dry noodles (left – wheat+buckwheat noodles), the typical cooking time is 3-4 minutes, but I usually cook them for about 3 minutes. 
  • For wet noodles (right – 100% buckwheat GF noodles), they usually require a shorter cooking time of 30-40 seconds. Before adding the noodles to the pot, make sure to separate them by rubbing them with your hands to prevent them from clumping together. 
  • Prepare an ice bath in advance and transfer the cooked noodles into the ice bath. Rinse the noodles by rubbing them with your hands, repeating this process three times. Create individual portions of noodles by swirling and bunching them up with your hands. Place the portions on a sieve to continue draining. You can refer to the video for a visual demonstration.

TIME TO SERVE!

In a bowl, place the cooked noodles and add the toppings such as radish, cucumber, pear, egg, and beef. Pour the prepared broth into the bowl. For an extra refreshing touch, add 3-4 ice cubes. You can refer to my serving suggestions mentioned above to see what complements my Mul Naengmyeon well.

Rapid Recipe: Southern-Style Quick Mul Naengmyeon Broth

Instead of going through the process of making your own beef broth (which, in my opinion, yields the best results), you have the option to use store-bought chicken broth to make the soup. Surprising, right? But trust me, it’s a great alternative when you’re short on time or feeling too exhausted to make everything from scratch. My mom assures me that this version is almost as delicious as the traditional beef one, so you know it’s going to be yummy!

By the way, this quick and easy Mul Naengmyeon will taste very similar to what you would find in most Korean restaurants in the US—sweet, tangy, and refreshing.

I personally like using Trader Joe’s low-sodium chicken broth, but you can use Swanson or your favorite brand. Alternatively, you can use the beef broth from the previous recipe and adjust the seasoning by adding more vinegar and sugar as specified in the recipe card.

  • Simply mix the chicken broth with water and season it with vinegar, salt, soy sauce, kimchi juice, and the juice from the radish and cucumber pickles. Chill the soup and serve it with cooked noodles! For precise measurements, refer to the recipe card.

If you happen to have Mul Kimchi or Dongchimi Kimchi, using their juices instead of the pickle juices will enhance the flavor even more!

If you don’t have your own Mul kimchi juice, you can purchase the wet Pulmuone instant Cold Noodle Soup packet and mix some of its contents with the chicken broth. I find that this yields a more flavorful result compared to using the instant soup mix on its own.

Serving Suggestions

To be honest, while I absolutely love Mul Naengmyeon, I sometimes find it a bit plain to eat on its own. That’s why I like to enjoy it with one of these recipes, which takes the entire meal to a whole new level of satisfaction and incredible deliciousness.

  • My first choice for pairing with cold noodle soup is Boiled Samgyeopsal (Pork belly). It’s my ultimate favorite, and it’s how my family always enjoyed it while I was growing up. The combination is truly perfect. You can boil the samgyeopsal in water using the recipe provided HERE, or you can dry cook it using my mother-in-law’s recipe. Serve it with some Cho Ganjang (soy sauce + vinegar).
  • Another classic combination that works wonderfully is Bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) and Naengmyeon. This pairing has its roots in Northern Korean cuisine and can also make for a fantastic party menu.
  • Kalbi or Bulgogi served with Naengmyeon is perhaps the most well-known classic combination, and it’s guaranteed to be loved by everyone.

In the picture, I boiled some samgyeopsal and served it alongside the Naengmyeon. By the way, these stunning hemp placemats were specially hand-stitched by my amazing sister #3 using traditional Korean sewing methods! Aren’t they just beautiful? I adore them so much… ❤️ Thank you, Sis!

If you have tried this or any other recipe on my blog, please take a moment to rate the recipe (☆☆☆☆☆ at the top right of the recipe card) and leave a comment to let me know your thoughts! Your feedback is valuable and greatly appreciated. Your 5-star rating helps me tremendously, and I always enjoy hearing from you!

How to Make Mul Naengmyeon: A Step-by-Step Guide

Ingredients

Beef Broth (when making in IP, reduce water by 40% – for 1.5 lb use 5 cups)

▢1.5 lb beef shank (or brisket)

▢5 cloves of garlic

▢7 g ginger (1.5 x 0.25″ thick slice)

▢13 cups water (use only 40% of water if using Instant Pot)

▢1 small onion

Seasoning for Beef Broth

▢1 tsp Guk Ganjang (Korean Soup Soy Sauce)

▢1 tsp sea salt (Trader Joe’s)

▢2 Tbsp cucumber pickle liquid

▢2 Tbsp radish pickle liquid

Cucumber Pickles (Oi Chojeolim)

▢1 Korean Cucumber (1 cup) (or 1/2 English cucumber or 2 Persian cucumbers)

▢2 tsp sea salt

▢1 Tbsp rice vinegar

▢1 Tbsp sugar

Radish Pickles (Mu Chojeolim)

▢1 cup Korean radish (thinly sliced, rectangular)

▢2 tsp sea salt

▢1 Tbsp rice vinegar

▢1 Tbsp sugar

▢1/4 Asian pear

Yellow Mustard and Vinegar

▢2 eggs

▢60 g buckwheat naengmyeon noodles

Instructions

To make beef broth:

  1. In a pot, combine beef shank, whole small onion, garlic cloves, ginger, and water.On the stove top, cook the mixture for approximately 2 hours and 30 to 40 minutes, or until the beef is tender enough to easily pierce with a fork.If using an Instant Pot, cook for 35 minutes using the manual HIGH pressure setting. Allow for a Natural Release for 15 minutes before performing a Quick Release to open the pot.

Pickle Cucumbers – (while you wait for the beef to cook)

  1. Cut the cucumbers into slices, either at an angle or into rectangles, according to your preference.
  2. In a bowl, combine the cucumbers, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Mix well to ensure the cucumbers are coated with the mixture.Set the bowl aside for about 10-15 minutes, allowing the cucumbers to pickle and absorb the flavors.
  3. For an extra crunchy texture (optional), once the cucumbers are fully pickled, you can place them in a fine cheesecloth and squeeze out the excess liquid. Make sure to save the liquid, as it adds extra flavor.
  4. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the pickled cucumbers until you are ready to serve them.

Pickle Radish –

  1. Cut a radish into a 1-inch thick disc, then peel it. Proceed to cut the radish vertically, resulting in thin strips.
  2. In a bowl, combine the cut radish, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Mix well to ensure the radish is coated with the mixture.Cover the bowl and refrigerate the pickled radish until you are ready to serve it.

Cook Hard Boiled Eggs –

  1. Bring water to a boil in a pot, then reduce the heat to a simmer.Carefully add the eggs to the simmering water and cook them for 10 minutes.Once the eggs are cooked, remove them from the pot and place them in a bowl of cold water to cool down.Peel the cooled eggs and cut them in half.

Make yellow mustard – Mix 2 teaspoons of mustard powder with 3 teaspoons of water. Alternatively, you can use a pre-made tube, although it may not be as flavorful.

OPTIONAL – Peel and thinly slice the Asian pear.

  1. Once the beef is cooked, let it cool for a few minutes. Remove the beef from the broth and place it on a cutting board. Allow it to cool until it is safe to handle. Keep the beef covered while it cools to prevent it from drying out.
  2. When the beef broth has cooled enough to handle, strain it through a sieve or cheesecloth into a bowl or container. Chill the broth in the refrigerator. To speed up the chilling process, you can create an ice bath in a sink or large bowl and place the container with the broth in the ice bath. Just a reminder: for 1.5 lbs of shank, you should have about 1 quart of broth.
  3. Slice the beef shank thinly against the grain of the muscle. Serve the beef at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.
  4. After the beef broth has chilled, remove any solidified fat bits from the surface. Due to the low fat content of the shank, there should be minimal fat.
  5. Season the cold broth from step 7 with Guk Ganjang (Soup Soy Sauce), sea salt, and a couple of tablespoons each of the pickling liquid from step 2 and step 3. Refrigerate the seasoned broth until serving time.

To cook the noodles, bring a pot of water to a boil and then add the noodles. Refer to the instructions on the package for the recommended cooking time.

  1. For Dry Noodles (left in picture), they usually cook for 3-4 minutes. For Wet Noodles (right in picture), they usually cook for 40 seconds to 1 minute. Ensure that the noodles are separated before cooking.
  2. Prepare an ice bath and transfer the cooked noodles into the ice bath. Rinse the noodles by gently rubbing them between your hands. Repeat this rinsing process for a total of three times. Create individual portions of noodles by swirling and bunching them up with your hands. Place the noodles on a sieve to continue draining. You can refer to the video for visual guidance.

SERVING TIME – In a bowl, add the cooked noodles and arrange the toppings (radish, cucumber, pear, egg, and beef). Pour the broth into the bowl. Add ice cubes for a refreshing touch. Serve the dish with vinegar and yellow mustard. You can also refer to my serving suggestions mentioned above to find complementary accompaniments for my Mul Naengmyeon recipe.

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