Countries around the world have their own signature noodle dishes. Japan has ramen and soba. Laksa and mie goreng are loved in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. China has dan dan and Shanghai noodles. Thailand has pad thai, Vietnam has pho, and Italy has various kinds of pasta dishes.
If you’re a noodle lover, you’ll feel right at home in Korea. There are many types of Korean noodles and japchae, naengmyeon, bibim guksu, and ramyeon are just some of the popular ones.
As one of the biggest noodle lovers in the world, the Land of the Morning Calm has a great variety of noodles. But before we dive into the dishes, let’s take a closer look at the noodle culture in Korea.
Noodles in Korea
Noodles are collectively referred to as guksu in the Korean language and myeon in Sino-Korean vocabulary, after the Chinese word mian or mien. It’s uncertain when this slurp-worthy goodness first appeared in Korea but it is believed that the Chinese were the ones who introduced this food to the Koreans.
It’s no secret that Korea’s proximity to China and Japan has affected Korean food culture. This inevitably extends to the types of Korean noodles as well as the cooking styles.
For instance, using wheat flour for noodles is common in China, Japan, and Korea. Buckwheat noodles are popular in Japan and Korea, and both countries have cold noodle dishes using buckwheat noodles.
As in China, eating long noodles in Korea is also associated with longevity and various noodle dishes mark special occasions.
Aside from wheat and buckwheat, other common ingredients in making noodles include sweet potato starch, cornflour, rice flour, acorn flour, and even kelp (seaweed). Methods of making vary – they can be hand-cut, knife-cut, rolled, or shaved. Recipes also differ per region.
Finally, Korean dishes are served either hot or cold. Like many seasonal Korean foods, many types of Korean noodles are consumed during the colder months while some are eaten to beat the summer heat.
So, without further ado, here are some of the popular and delicious Korean noodle dishes.
Types of Korean noodles for banchan
Banchan are side dishes, the colorful assortment of small dishes that are typically fermented or pickled and meant to be shared and enhance the flavor of the main dish. A couple of Korean noodle dishes are served as banchan.
Japchae is one of the most famous Korean noodles in and outside Korea. This classic Korean dish is made using dangmyeon (cellophane or glass noodles), one of the most common types of Korean noodles.
Dangmyeon is stir-fried with vegetables, meat, and mushrooms, and then seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. Beef is usually used but it can be substituted with chicken or pork.
The name japchae translates to ‘mixture of vegetables’ and back when it was a royal dish, it didn’t have meat nor noodles. Like most traditional Korean foods, it included the five basic colors: green for spinach, red for carrots, black for mushrooms, and yellow and white for a fried egg.
Today, japchae is a mainstay on special occasions like weddings, birthdays, and holidays. It is also served as a banchan but it can also be eaten on its own. One of the most flexible Korean noodles, it can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold.
Cheonsachae is a type of Korean noodle that is made from the jelly-like extract from steamed kelp, a type of seaweed. It is made without grain flour or starch so it’s gluten-free. It’s also low in calories, making it a popular alternative among the low-carb diet community.
The semi-transparent Korean kelp noodles are bland but have a nice crunchy texture and can be eaten raw or cooked. Seasonings can transform it into more palatable dishes but it’s usually eaten as a light salad with shredded vegetables and dressed with mayo and vinegar.
Warm Korean noodle dishes
There’s nothing like a hearty bowl of Korean noodle soup or piping hot stir-fried noodles to warm you up on cold winter days. But make no mistake, these Korean noodle types are also eaten all year-round.
Kal means ‘knife’ in Korean so kalguksu translates to ‘knife noodles’. One of the traditional types of Korean noodles, it is made from wheat flour kneaded into a dough, rolled out flat, and knife-cut into strips, hence the name.
Kalguksu is served with warm broth, often made with anchovy, chicken, or beef stock. The dish is cooked with vegetables such as zucchini, potatoes, and scallions. Sometimes, seafood or meat is added.
Light and comforting, this Korean noodle dish is especially popular in the winter. But it doesn’t take uber low temperatures for Koreans to crave this tasty bowl because it’s also served during windy or rainy summer days.
Janchi guksu (잔치국수)
One of the oldest types of Korean noodles, janchi guksu uses somyeon, a very thin wheat flour noodle, served in a clear and light anchovy or beef broth. Occasionally, the broth may be flavored with kelp.
This warm dish is typically garnished with thinly sliced egg, seaweed, carrots, mushrooms, and sliced zucchinis. Yangnyeomjang, a spicy soy sauce-based sauce, is usually served with a bowl but you don’t need it as the guksu alone is already tasty.
Janchi translates to ‘banquet’ in Korean, and the name is derived from the tradition of serving janchi guksu on occasions like birthdays and weddings. The long, continuous noodles are believed to symbolize long life and long-lasting marriages.
Gogi guksu is a type of janchi guksu that uses the usual garnishes with the addition of pork. This dish is only sold on Jeju Island.
Jjajangmyeon or black bean sauce noodles is one of the popular types of Korean noodles that have North Chinese roots. Said to be inspired by the Chinese dish zhájiàngmiàn, the present-time jjajangmyeon has been thoroughly Koreanized.
This savory dish uses Korean wheat noodles that are similar to udon. The sauce, jjajang, is made with chunjang (Chinese-style black bean paste) mixed with soy sauce or oyster sauce.
Chopped vegetables and meat (usually pork, but sometimes beef or seafood) are stir-fried with the sauce. Cucumber, scallions, and eggs are common garnishes for this noodle dish. It’s also typically served with danmuji or yellow pickled radish.
Jjangmyeon is one of the most ordered dishes from Korean restaurant delivery services. Several brands have created instant noodle versions of it, with Nongshim’s Chapagetti being the most popular one.
If you love old-fashioned bone broth soups, gomguksu will not disappoint. Rich and nutritious, this Korean noodle soup uses wheat flour noodles simmered in a savory broth of gomguk or gomtang (beef bone broth).
This broth is made with various beef parts like ribs, oxtail, brisket, ox’s head, or bones, slowly simmered on a low flame. It’s delicious, hearty, and perfect for cold weather.
We’ve listed non-spicy types of Korean noodles so far. Now, if you’re craving Korean hot noodles, you’ll love jjamppong.
Like jjajangmyeon, this Chinese-inspired dish uses wheat flour noodles, onions, garlic, zucchini, carrots, cabbages, seafood, and meat.
Gochugaru (chili powder) and chili oil are added to seafood- or pork-based broth. All these make for a spicy, belly-warming soup.
While most types of Korean noodles are knife- or machine-cut, sujebi stands out because the wheat flour dough flakes are roughly torn by hand. You literally have to tear the dough into bite-sized pieces and then drop them into the boiling soup!
The broth is typically flavored with dried anchovies, shellfish, and kelp. These ingredients are simmered for long hours to achieve a rich, umami taste. Vegetables like zucchini and potatoes are added. Kimchi is also used sometimes.
These days, sujebi is a common homecooked meal. But in the past, it was only used for special occasions like a baby’s first birthday.
Cold Korean noodle dishes
The concept of cold noodles may seem foreign to some people, especially Westerners. But these types of Korean noodles are some of the most delicious and refreshing ways to beat the hottest days of the year.
The term “summer noodles” is almost synonymous with naengmyeon or cold noodles that typically use buckwheat flour. What’s surprising is that this dish was historically a winter delicacy.
Mul naengmyeon, literally “water cold noodles”, originated from Pyongyang, North Korea. Its broth is typically made with dongchimi (radish-based water kimchi) which is traditionally made and consumed during winter. Hence, people traditionally ate naengmyeon during the colder months.
While the Pyongyang mul naengmyeon can be served with tangy cold or lukewarm broth, South Korea’s version is icy cold. Its broth is either slightly frozen or served with ice cubes.
Another variation is the bibim naengmyeon or “mixed cold noodles”. This one doesn’t have broth and is instead stir-fried with a spicy gochujang-based sauce.
Milmyeon resembles the North Korean naengmyeon and has almost the same ingredients except for the most important one: the noodles. Instead of buckwheat noodles, milmyeon uses milguksu or wheat flour noodles.
The cold broth-based noodles that have become one of Busan’s representative dishes carry a painful history. Many North Koreans fled to Busan during the war. Longing for the noodles they have grown up with, they started making naengmyeon.
However, buckwheat noodles were unpopular among Busan residents. As wheat became more widely available through the American army, the refugees used it to replace buckwheat. Thus, milmyeon was born.
Aside from the noodles, milmyeon also uses meat broth instead of the traditional dongchimi. Toppings include boiled eggs, cucumbers, radish, and beef.
Like naengmyeon, makguksu uses buckwheat flour noodles. The major difference lies in the higher concentration of buckwheat in makguksu. This is because the province of Gangwon, where makguksu was born, is the largest producer of buckwheat.
Makguksu is typically served in chilled dongchimi or chicken-based broth and topped with a gochugaru-based sauce. But part of what makes makguksu so special is its versatility.
Depending on which restaurant you go to, you can enjoy different makguksu experiences. Recipes may differ and some restaurants serve it with a variety of vegetables, condiments (e.g. sugar, mustard, vinegar, or soy sauce), and side dishes to choose from.
One of the most refreshing types of Korean noodles, kongguksu or noodles in cold soybean soup is a healthy and delicious summer delicacy.
Like janchi guksu, kongguksu commonly uses somyeon served in a thick soy broth. Soybeans are soaked, boiled, peeled, and pureed. Sesame seeds or different nuts may be added. The broth can also be seasoned with sugar or salt, depending on the region.
Kongguksu is simply garnished with more cooling ingredients like cucumber, chilled tomatoes, or watermelon. Occasionally, ice cubes can be added.
Many types of Korean noodles use broth made from local specialties. Such is the case for jatguksu, a Gapyeong specialty. Gapyeong in Gyeonggi province is known for its pine nuts or jat.
Jatguksu resembles kongguksu but its cold broth is made of ground pine nuts instead of soybeans. Pine nuts need to be either soaked in water or lightly roasted before grinding. As for the noodles, either wheat flour or buckwheat flour noodles are fine.
Some people who don’t like kongguksu’s strong bean taste enjoy jatguksu because of its creamy but “clean” taste. Pine nuts have a higher fat content, which gives jatguksu a buttery taste and texture.
Bibim guksu (비빔국수)
By now you may have noticed that the term bibim appears in a few well-known Korean foods. Bibimbap, bibim naengmyeon (or bibim myeon), and now bibim guksu. What’s bibim anyway?
Bibim is Korean for ‘mixed’, thus, bibimbap means mixed rice and both bibim naengmyeon and bibim guksu are types of Korean noodles that are mixed.
The difference between bibim naengmyeon and bibim guksu is the noodle. Naengmyeon noodles are thicker and use buckwheat flour, potato starch, or sweet potato starch. Guksu, on the other hand, uses wheat flour noodles, usually somyeon.
Simply put, traditional bibim guksu is like bibimbap but with noodles instead of rice. The noodles are tossed in a cold spicy sauce made from gochujang and vinegar. Toppings include veggies, hard-boiled eggs, seaweed, pickled radishes, and occasionally, chopped kimchi.
If you’re using Korean soba noodles instead of somyeon and adding more vegetables, the dish becomes jaengban guksu.
Another version is jjolmyeon, a representative dish of Incheon. Although the recipe is almost the same, the texture is different, thanks to its chewier, bigger wheat noodles that almost resemble thick spaghetti.
Memil guksu (메밀국수)
Memil guksu, literally ‘buckwheat noodles’, is Korea’s answer to Japanese soba noodles. This popular summer dish is known for its light and clear taste.
While the noodles and broth of the Japanese soba are served separately, traditional memil guksu is served in a broth made of myeolchi (anchovy stock), mushroom, kelp, rice wine, soy sauce, and sugar.
One of the best ways to beat the summer heat, this cold noodle soup also comes with shredded cucumber, ground radish, green onions, and horseradish paste.
Ramyeon, Korean instant noodles
Traditional warm and cold Korean noodles are great and all. But when you’re craving for yummy noods at ungodly hours, you can’t just whip up some kalguksu or naengmyeon, can you?
Enter ramyeon, Korea’s instant ramen and one of the most consumed foods in the country. We listed some of the most popular Korean ramen brands but here are our top picks:
Samyang Ramyeon is Korea’s first instant noodles.
First released in 1963, it had savory chicken broth but now comes in a slightly spicy beef soup base. While other types of Samyang noodles and other ramyeon brands have surpassed its popularity, the OG remains one of the most known ramyeon in Korea.
Samyang’s Buldak Bokkeummyeon, made viral by the Fire Noodle Challenge, is one of the spiciest Korean ramyeon. It’s also one of the most popular types of Korean noodles.
Featuring hot and spicy stir-fried chicken flavor, it has chewy and bouncy noodles without broth. It comes in more varieties like jjajang, cheese, and curry.
The marriage of stew and instant noodles, budae jjigae is a spicy stew created from rations from U.S. military bases in Korea.
This dish combines ham, sausage, spam, and baked beans with kimchi, gochujang, and instant noodles, topped with cheese. While you can easily find it in many restaurants, brands like Nongshim also offer an affordable quick fix.
Thanks to the popularity of the Korean film Parasite, chapaguri or jjapaguri has become an instant hit.
Chapaguri is originally a combination of two Nongshim favorites – Chapagetti (instant jjajangmyeon) and Neoguri (instant spicy jjamppong). The result is a savory-spicy meal.
Nongshim has since created a singular Chapaguri instant noodle, which combines Chapagetti and Neoguri.
A fitting end to the list of different kinds of Korean noodles is the most popular ramyeon – Shin Ramyun.
Featuring a spicy and deep beef broth with soft and chewy noodles, Shin Ramyun is exported to over 100 countries around the world and is the highest-selling instant noodles in Korea.
If you ever find yourself in Korea and longing for something slurp-worthy, you know that you’ll never run out of choices. Whether hot, cold, or even options that transcend temperatures, there’s a Korean noodle dish for you.