A North Korean Classic: Sweet Potato Noodles with Spicy Sauce
As the name shows, Hamheung naengmyeon is a starchy noodle dish originated from Hamheung region of current North Korea. Unlike typical Pyeongyang naengmyeon in which the noodle sits in clear broth, Hamheung-style naengmyeon is soaked in sweet and sour sauce with a slight kick of hot pepper paste.
Hamheung Gombo Naengmyeon was first established in 1960 by Han Tae-eun. Han was a chef back in North Korea before the war forced them to seek refuge in south. With the experience of making authentic naengmyeon, Han was able to recreate the taste of Hamheung bibim noodles in Seoul as well.
The sweet and spicy noodles were so popular that people started to call the area Yejidong Naengmyeon Alley. In the late 80s, the lineups were so long that it sometimes reached Changgyeonggung Palace, about 2km away. During the time of international events such as 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, the place was often selected as official restaurant promoting traditional Korean food.
Located in Yejidong of Jongno district, the historic joint was simply referred as Yejidong Naengmyeonjib, or Yejidong Noodle House. However, the restaurant is now temporarily housed in a modern building on Jongno 4ga. The city redevelopment project had forced the native out of its home on Yejidong 50beonji but their plan is to return once the construction is over.
Hamheung noodles is made with 100% sweet potato starch. The sauce is made exactly the same way as it has been for past decades. The new generation is craving more pungent flavours and many advised that it is now time to adjust to the change in taste buds. Nevertheless, the new owner Bae would not budge. They will stay with the original recipe and continue with the tradition.
Over time, the restaurant was offered numerous opportunities to expand their business by turning the brand into chain restaurant. Bae, who had taken over since late 80s, would not consider it as an option. “We may expand by forming a partnership with former chefs that had worked with us. That is the only way we can guarantee the consistency in quality”, Bae explained.
112-14 Inui-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul