Korean chilled noodle soup with a few Vietnamese twists

    Sometimes my craziness surprises myself. I woke up one morning, reflecting that the week’s been warm, and decided to make mul naengmyeon (물 냉면). Weeks earlier, I bought the buckwheat noodles but never had the time to cook, or the mood. Now I still don’t have time to cook, but today is the day. I remember the main ingredients of a true Korean naengmyeon, but just to make sure that I don’t have them, I look at Maangchi’s recipe anyway.

    Beef bones? No. Mushroom? No. Dried anchovies? No. Kelp? No. Yeolmu kimchi juice? Hah. In my dreams. I don’t even have cucumber. Am I going to the store? Of course not. The wind might blow away my cooking mood, which is already rare as it is. Besides, I have a blind confidence that what I do have will make a fine bowl. The deaf ain’t scared by gun fires, they (we Vietnamese) say.

    Naengmyeon has three fundamental components: the broth, the buckwheat noodle, and the toppings. The broth needs to be clear and slender. To get the sweetness, I substitute beef bones by pig trotters. They have plenty of bones, and unfortunately also plenty of gelatin, but as long as I skim off the fat while the stock boils uncovered, my broth is clear. In place of dried anchovies, I use fish sauce. So far so good.

    The tricky part is the yeolmu kimchi juice, or some kind of dongchimi. Naengmyeon, unlike all other noodle soups, can be eaten cold because the tangy, bitter kimchi juice freshens the otherwise fatty stock. More acridity comes from the mustard, but I don’t like mustard so I (coincidentally) miss it from the noodle package. Anyways, no dongchimi in sight, what to do? I just use normal kimchi. Currently I have a jar of cabbage kimchi, but any kimchi would do. The fermented, spicy, and sour flavor is our goal. Churn a handful of kimchi in some cold water, then mix with the cooled broth to taste, it comes out just as well had it been yeolmu kimchi juice.

    The noodle: boiled and cooled.

    The toppings. Because I’m making the soup version, mul naengmyeon, I don’t need the pepper flakes, pepper paste, ginger, and onion, all of which I don’t have, to make the spicy sauce for the bibim nangmyeon. (You may also wonder what kind of kitchen doesn’t have onions.) Mul naengmyeon toppings are simple: hard boiled egg, cucumber, and Asian pear. The cucumber and the pear, as you might guess, are for crispiness and coolness. I don’t have cucumber so I double the pears. In fact, there’s no such thing as too much pear. It’s sweet, crunchy, and refreshing. It defines naengmyeon.

    Another twist I came up with to maximize the freshness: add watercress. Right before serving. Not only does it herbalize and lighten the broth, the porous stems complete the textural spectrum. Just out of curiosity, I also try it hot. Then it’s just jokbal myeon, or miến giò. 😛 In one single bowl is every ingredient that I love: chewy noodle, pig feet, kimchi, and pears. Delicioso.

    Mai’s extremely simplified take on mul naengmyeon:
    Jokbal Mul NaengmyeonMiến Giò Lạnh
    Ingredients: (6 servings)
    – 2 lbs pig trotters
    – kimchi
    – buckwheat noodle (naengmyeon, or miến kiều mạch)
    – 1 Asian pear
    – 3 hard boiled egg
    – watercress (optional)
    – 2 tbs Red Boat fish sauce
    – Other possibilities: chrysanthemum greens and night scented lily (bạc hà) to clarify the broth.

    – The broth: Put washed pig feet in cold water with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Dump out the water, rewash the pig feet in cold water. (This first boil is to get rid of the piggy smell, said Little Mom.) Boil the trotters again, uncovered to keep the stock clear. Skim off the white fat layer frequently. Boil until tender. (This second boil takes about 2 hours.)
    —- Add fish sauce near the end. Too much fish sauce would muddle the broth. I use 2 tbs fish sauce and some salt to keep it light. No sugar.
    —- Mix a handful of kimchi with cold water, then add to the cooled broth. For less sourness, add the kimchi directly to the broth right before turning off the heat.

    – The noodle: boil 3-4 minutes, then rinse under cold water to increase the chewiness and remove the starch.

    – The toppings:
    —- One or a few slices of hard boiled eggs.
    —- A few thin slices of Asian pear. A trick I learn from Maangchi’s recipe: keep the pear slices in cold sugar water to preserve its color and sweetness.
    —- A few sprigs of watercress.

    Serve cold: refrigerate for 20 minutes or add crushed ice.
    Serve hot: like every other noodle soup.

    When was the last time I made noodle soup? It was bún bung, exactly one year ago! (Sep 25, 2010 – Sep 25, 2011). Ironically, real bún bung calls for pig feet, and I had to use beef bones. Now real naengmyeon needs beef bones, and I use pig feet.

    I think I’ve vietnamized this unique Korean noodle soup enough that it’s qualified as a Vietnamese dish to submit to Delicious Vietnam, a monthly blogging event created by Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey and Hong & Kim from Ravenous Couple. In fact, that’s just what I’ll do. Thank you Bonnibella for hosting the 18th round. 🙂

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    6 comments to Korean chilled noodle soup with a few Vietnamese twists

    • Yum yum… I went through a whole phase this summer where every visit to a Korean restaurant resulted in my ordering this, no matter how hard I tried to vary my diet. So refreshing!

    • Bob

      You cook?!?! A girl who just happens to have a pork trotter handy, you gotta love that! Nicely done riff, not sure it is Vietnamese, or Korean, looks almost like ‘fusion’ 😀

    • Mai

      @Dang: hehe, are those restaurants around the Bay? You should tell me which one has the best mnm 😀

      @Bob: yep, those trotters are more essential than onions. 😛 And currywurst qualifies as German, so since this is made by a Vietnamese, it’s Vietnamese… isn’t it? 😀 I’m just broadening my authenticity, the way you add fish sauce to ramen. 😉

    • Bob

      Okay, you win this one Mai! 😉

    • Heh no, these were all in Michigan or Ohio. We haven’t been to too many Korean restaurants in the Bay Area – we’re still relying on you for good tips on those 🙂

    • Mai

      @Bob: 😀 maybe I’ll make something truly authentic next year I cook. 😛
      @Dang: guess i should start my mul naengmyeon quest soon then. 😛

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