The Cold Korean Soups Calling My Name In The Summer
When summer hits Korea, it can be pretty hot, humid and sweaty… well for the foreigners anyway.
My Korean husband seems to only sweat when he’s eating hot soup. While traditional Korean belief promotes the idea of iyeol chiyeol (이열치열), or the idea of controlling heat with heat which means that Koreans eat HOT soups on the HOTTEST of days in order to feel cooler, not all Korean summer soups are hot. Some of my favorite summer meals in Korea are when we sit down to lunch on a delightfully cool bowl of Korean soupy goodness that may or may not also have some ice cubes floating around too.
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Prior to coming to Korea, the only cold soup I’d ever been privy to was gazpacho, a cold vegetable soup originating in southern Spain. Gazpacho does NOT have the market cornered on cold soups though as I soon found out. Keep reading to learn more about the cold Korean soups you need to eat while sweating it up this summer.
Trust me, they are not only pleasantly cool, but they are tasty and will definitely hit that hot spot in your belly.
Cold Soy Milk Noodle Soup or Kongguksu (콩국수)
Kongguksu is one of those soups that my husband gets urges for each summer. He takes his sweet time eating the noodles and then gulping down that soy milk broth that’s leftover. It’s refreshing, cool and will fill you up without being too heavy in the belly. Kimchimari does a great job of explaining why the soy milk in this dish is so special. Basically though, the soy milk or (duyu (두유)) is a bit different than the one you drink. The soy milk sold to drink has no solids and is often artificially thickened with xantham gum or carrageenan and is missing the natural fiber that comes from soybeans. Kongguk soy milk though still has the fiber AND has some delectable little bits that make the flavor nuttier. I also prefer this soy milk because it’s not as sweet as many of the soy milk drinks you can purchase in the store. The soy milk broth is a bit thicker than than the drink and may take a little adjusting to when you first begin to eat it, but you will soon find yourself slurping it up just like my husband does. Along with the handmade noodles, some carrots, cucumbers, sesame and an egg, the broth is the stand out that you’ll remember and want to go back for.
Pyeongyang Naengmyeon (평양냉면)
Naengmyeon has been made in Korea since the Joseon Dynasty but was a delicacy in northern Korea especially Pyeongyang originally. When it comes to naengmyeons, this is my husband’s choice all the way and we are known to frequent Eul Mil Dae, a popular Pyeongyang naengmyeon restaurant here in Seoul that’s been open since the 70s. Pyeongyang naegmyeon is served with buckwheat noodles and a mild cold broth and my husband will tell you that it is one of those love it or hate it dishes. He loves it… I… I wouldn’t say hate, but I like some other naengmyeons a bit better. Due to it’s mild taste you may think it’s just not that appealing or it’s like you’re eating but nothing memorable so what’s the point? It wasn’t until I was walking down the street afterward the first time I had the icy dish that I felt the urge to go back and have more which my husband said was proof I was a lover and not a hater. While I was eating though, I was a bit confused. Shouldn’t we add one of the spicy sauces Korean dishes are known for? Or some spicy mustard or vinegar like we add when we’re at a meat restaurant? The soup may seem simple enough to make, but the beef and water kimchi combination has to be just right for it to be refreshing and leave just the right aftertaste in the mouth. It’s cool and if you’re a Pyeongyang naengmyeon lover, it’s refreshing and delectable too. Try it and let me know which you are… a lover? Or a hater?
Mul Naengmyeon (물 냉면)
While traditional Pyeongyang naengmyeon is refreshingly simple and mild, the mul naengmyeon can be spiced up a bit. Not all Koreans like the mild taste of Pyeongyang naengmyeon so there is a spicier, tangier version. Combining julienned cucumbers, sliced Korean pear, radish, and a boiled egg or cold boiled beef, spicy mustard and vinegar make the broth quite tangy. Long, thin buckwheat noodles would traditionally be eaten without cutting symbolizing longevity of life and good health, these days most servers will ask if you’d like the noodles cut as they wield scissors back and forth. I recommend getting those noodles cut. They are long and chewy. To find a good dish, head to Gwangjang Market in Seoul and eat this along with some other delicious authentic Korean meals. The soup will likely have some ice cubes floating around to keep it cool as you savor each bite. And while you’re technically not supposed to pick up bowls and slurp down the broth in Korea, my husband and I are known to be unable to stop ourselves when this delight is on the table. This is one of my summer favorites.
The heat has arrived on the Korean peninsula but it will get hotter and when it does, make sure you know what to order to cool you down just a bit.