By Kim Hyelin and Hahm Hee-eun
Photos = Korea Tourism Organization
Busan | July 31, 2018
Food from different regions can tell us a lot about those places.
This is certainly the case for Busan’s specialties, among which there are many that retain the history and unique social aspects of Korea’s southern port city.
In particular, the history of Busan as a provisional capital the during Korean War (1950-1953), and the specialized role it played as a port during colonial times, created a unique list of specialties that combine the food customs of the indigenous people from around Busan and refugees from all across the Korean Peninsula. Time passed, and many of the dishes that resulted from this have now become the most representative foods of Busan.
Korea.net would like to introduce three dishes that represent Busan and especially the food customs and habits that refugees from all across Korea brought to the city during the Korean War.
Milmyeon cold wheat noodles (밀면)
Thin slices of ice on a clear broth, rolled-up and circular fine noodles, and spicy red chili pepper sauce on top: this is milmyeon cold wheat noodles, one of the most popular Busan dishes of all times.
There are various theories about the origins of milmyeon, but the most trusted one is that during the Korean War refugees from northern Korea started selling cold noodles that they had enjoyed in their hometowns. However, the ingredient for the cold noodles had to be slightly altered from buckwheat flour to wheat and potato flour.
Buckwheat, which grows in the cold climates of northern Korea, was difficult to find in the southern climes of Busan, a warmer region at the south of the peninsula. The refugees weren’t able to secure a supply of buckwheat flour during the war, so as a substitute they used wheat flour, which was more common due to food aid from the U.S. military. Sweet potato flour or regular potato flour was also added to the noodles.
Despite their origins in northern Korea, the styles of cold noodles have changed in accordance with the climate and food traditions of Busan. North Korea’s cold noodles are known for their mild flavors, whereas Busan’s cold noodles have stronger flavors, sweet, salty and spicy alike. Also, using wheat flour for the noodles means that their texture is a bit softer. As for the broth, it’s brewed with beef bones, pork bones or chicken meat. In some cases, medicinal herbs are added to the broth, too, to add an herbal scent. As shown in the photo, noodles are served in a cold broth or just with the spicy sauce on top without any broth.
Dwaeji-gukbap pork and rice soup (돼지국밥)
Another representative food from Busan is dwaeji-gukbap pork and rice soup (돼지국밥). A bowl of dense pork bone broth with pork meat and rice is served with buchu muchim (부추무침), garlic chive salad or kkakdugi (깍두기), cubed radish kimchi.
Historical documents show that putting rice into soup, like moistening cornflakes in milk, is a food custom that existed far before Joseon (1392-1910). Especially in Busan and the surrounding Gyeongsangnam-do Province, clear meat broths have been known to be enjoyed by our ancestors in ancient times. However, today’s specific form of dwaeji-gukbap comes from Busan from the 1950s.
With nowhere to go and nothing much to eat during the evacuation period, costly beef was not an available option as an ingredient for the refugees. Instead, they procured pork bones from the U.S. military and brewed it with a pig head and other porcine organs. That’s how dwaeji-gukbap started to become a signatory specialty of Busan.
Within Busan, there are diverse styles of pork and rice soup. In some places, pork bones are used for a dense broth, in others, only the meat is used for a clear broth. Concerning the parts of the animal, some places prefer to add in pork belly and neck cuts. Noodles are also added in the soup, too.
Busan’s dwaeji-gukbap, which is a rich meal that is served immediately on the table, is developing into a type of fast food that’s combined with Busan’s own “soul food,” if it can be called that.
Bibimdangmyeon spicy cold glass noodles (비빔당면)
Bibimdangmyeon spicy cold glass noodles (비빔당면) are also a representative dish from Busan. They’re made with boiled glass noodles, fish cake, pickled radish and chopped vegetables, with a spicy red sauce of chili pepper powder, sesame oil and grounded sesame with salt added on top.
During the war in the early 1950s, sweet potato flour or potato flour was made into dry glass noodles, due to a lack of wheat flour. The major difference between wheat noodles and glass noodles is that with just a little amount of potato flour, glass noodles can bloat in size, which makes it very filling.
Bibimdangmyeon can be made quickly with a simple recipe. Also, because of the natural traits of potato flour, the noodles tend to slide down the throat, making it easier to swallow, rather than chew. It’s a representative food that refugees had to eat quickly and from which they had to feel full, during their evacuation.