As a country, we seem to be quite smitten with Korean food—and for good reason. It’s anything but subtle, boasting intense flavors ranging from fiery to potently garlicky to fermenty-funky to salty-sweet … or some glorious combination of all the above. Here, an exploration of some of the defining dishes from this burgeoning cuisine.
Whenever I think of Korean noodles, I always think of chapchae (also spelled “japchae”), probably the most iconic Korean noodle dish. This was, hands down, my favorite dish that my Korean mom cooked when I was a kid—slippery cellophane noodles (or sweet potato noodles) with bits of meat and vegetables, all flavored with soy and sesame. I still adore and crave these noodles, which are delicious cold, room temperature, or hot, and my husband often asks me to make them as an introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Korean food, saying that they’ll win anyone over. (I always make a huge batch so we have lots of leftovers to enjoy a few days downstream.) Chapchae is fantastically riffable, too—just toss in any veggies you have on hand, or any bits of meat you have leftover in the fridge. Or try our classic version, featuring marinated beef, shiitake mushrooms, matchstick-cut carrots, and sautéed spinach.
Another popular Korean noodle is one called naengmyun; it’s made from buckwheat and is chewier than Japanese soba, though soba can definitely stand in as a substitute. These noodles are almost always served cold, often as Bibim Naengmyun (Think of bibimbob, which is artfully arranged toppings on rice. Bibim naengmyun is artfully arranged toppings on noodles.)
If you find yourself at a Korean restaurant and have the opportunity to try mul naengmyun, I heartily endorse it. The dish consists of those amazingly chewy noodles, piled into a (typically) stainless steel bowl that’s loaded with slushy-icy broth, topped with an egg, and served with gochujang. On a hot day (or really any day, if I’m being honest), that fire—from the gochujang—and ice—from the slushy broth—is absolutely addictive.
More About Korean Cuisine: