South Koreans seek taste of ‘peace noodles,’ after Moon-Kim summit

SEOUL, May 3 (UPI) — The inter-Korean summit held between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, not only left many South Koreans hopeful about peace and unification, but also hungry for a dish of Pyongyang-style naengmyeon, or chilled buckwheat noodles.

“While watching scenes of the two leaders eating naengmyeon, I wanted to enjoy some too and I think many people around me felt the same way,” Lee Dong-ju, an office worker in his late 30s, told UPI as he waited outside a Pyongyang naengmyeon restaurant with his girlfriend.

The two leaders enjoyed the traditional North Korean dish at their evening banquet held after the summit last week.

A top chef from the North’s Okryugwan restaurant prepared the bowls at the Panmunjom border village where the summit was held. A noodle-making machine was even transported to the venue to serve fresh naengmyeon.

“It looks very different from the naengmyeon we have in the South, so I thought if we really reunify with the North or have cultural exchanges, I’d like to go and try the authentic naengmyeon at Okryugwan,” Kim Jun-sung, a student in her 20s, told UPI.

Naengmyeon, meaning cold noodles in Korean, is a bowl of chilled noodles usually served in cold, beef broth, or mixed with spicy pepper sauce, topped with sliced cucumbers, cold meat and a boiled egg to decorate.

Variations of the dish exist across the country, but in the North Korean capital, naengmyeon is traditionally flavoured with pickled radish soup and topped with slices of boiled meat, radishes, cucumbers and eggs.

The North Korean dish offers a more rustic taste as the noodles contain more buckwheat than starch, compared to Southern variations.

Since the weekend following the summit, restaurants in Seoul specializing in the Pyongyang dish have seen the number of customers double.

“We’ve had twice as many customers since the weekend,” a Pyongyang naengmyeon restaurant in western Seoul said.

A Michelin guide-approved restaurant in eastern Seoul opened up an annex building to accommodate the influx of visitors, seeking out their clear but flavorful Pyongyang-style broth.

“We’ve seen the number of customers double. As you can see there’s just so many people and cars coming in. It’s been like this all weekend and normally on week days, it’s just crowded during lunch hours but not today,” staff member Kim Dong-gyu said.

Even frequenters were surprised by the queue that stretched about 30 meters out of the restaurant and into the street.

“It looks like there are about twice or three times the usual crowd. They’ve opened up an annex building and there’s been a line here since 11:30 a.m. I brought my parents here as they have one of the best Pyongyang naengmyeon dishes in Seoul,” said Yoo Sang-jin, a self-employed businessman in his fifties.

Many of those who didn’t venture out tried the Pyongyang specialty at home. According to food giant Pulmuone, sales of ready-to-cook Pyongyang naengmyeon packets grew more than three-fold over the weekend, from Friday to Sunday, compared to the week before.

“In early summer, we do see sales rise by 20 percent or so on a weekend. But increasing more than threefold is a very exceptional phenomenon. We think this is due to the inter-Korean summit,” said an Pulmuone employee.

Convenience store chain GS25 also said sales of plain naengmyeon increased by 145 percent while Pyeongyang-style naengmyeon jumped 157 percent.

After Kim Jong Un mentioned Pyongyang naengmyeon in his televised conversation with President Moon before their official summit talks began on Friday, the local speciality became the most tweeted hashtag by noon, recording around 32,000 tweets. The ‘inter-Korean summit’ came second.

“The fact that Pyongyang naengmyeon’s number one on Twitter and the inter-Korean summit came second shows you what people will be having for lunch today,” a Twitter user wrote.

“Pyongyang naengmyeon is a sign of peace. I hope we can walk to Pyongyang by foot one day to taste the real thing,” another comment said.