Noodles in China and Korea: Compare and Contrast of Noodles in China and in Korea

Abstract 

            Noodle is a food. Noodle can be long or short. Noodle can be fried or boiled. Noodle may symbolize the unity in a group of people. Noodle has history. Noodle encompasses different philosophies. Noodles in different regions and to different people have different meanings, tastes and symbolisms. With a history of over four thousand years, both Chinese and Korean noodles are a significant part of both cultures. This paper delves into the similarities and differences between Chinese and Korean noodles: how noodles from two different countries have similar traditional and cultural meanings and how they are developed under different cultural philosophy and history.

Introduction

Noodle is defined as “a food in the form of long, thin strips made from flour or rice, water, and often egg, cooked in boiling liquid” by Cambridge dictionary. Yet in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is defined as “a food paste made usually with egg and shaped typically in ribbon form”. Like so, noodle has different meanings to different people. Different noodles are made by different ingredients, have different shapes, different tastes, and different meanings associated to each and every one of them.

Chinese and Korean noodles have different tastes, kinds and shapes. Also, different cultural significance resides in two different kinds of noodles. The main difference between noodles from China and from Korea is that while Chinese noodle developed under the Yin and Yang philosophy, Korean noodles pays more attention to the methods of making them. Yet, there are also similarities between Chinese and Korean noodles. The fact that noodles are used as a material to form unity between people is common in both Chinese and Korean noodles. Also, one biggest commonality that can be noticed in Chinese and Korean noodle is that noodles are associated different meanings and background stories.  

Noodles in China

[Concept of Unity in Chinese Food]

With over four thousand years of history, Chinese noodles have more than two thousand different kinds of cooking methods. There are numerous different kinds of Chinese noodles. Because China is very big in region and noodles have developed over a very long period of time, there are different styles of food in different parts of China. Such differences originated from the geological differences and the difference grew as people in different regions started to develop their own styles of living. For example, Sichuan noodles regards flavor as its foundation as they encompass different flavors including spicy, sweet, tingy, bitter and salty. Shandong cuisines are mostly from Ming and Qing dynasty, and are known for salty flavor and a rather crispy texture. [1]

Yet, one commonality that resides in all noodles is that their intention is to bring unity in people. Chinese noodle is not just about the food itself but encompasses a deeper meaning to it. Chinese people “stress the aesthetics of food, and the elegance of the dining environment.”[2] They value the idea of eating together – especially with family members. Shared dining, to Chinese people is their characteristics. For example, “Bao”[3] a computer-animated short film produced by Pixar Animation Studios points out the significance Chinese people put in the practice of family members eating all together. The story is set in Toronto, Canada, a Chinese immigrant woman relives motherhood when one of her handmade dumplings, “Bao” comes to life. Eventually, he desires independence from his mother.  When “Bao” tries to move out, the mother eats him. After, the mother is crying in bed and her real son enters the room holding treats she used to give him as a child.  Then, after sharing an emotional moment, whole family is then seen together in the kitchen, with the son’s new fiancée, happily making bao together. Through the conflict between differnt cultures, this story signifies the importance of family eating together in Chinese tradition.

[Yin and Yang Philosophy in Chinese Noodles]

Along with the idea that family members should eat together, noodle itself in China also has a very unique meaning. To Chinese people, food is not just a method that Chinese people gain energy from. It is more than just what they consume. Chinese people consider food as something much more. For example, the traditional Chinese principle of Yin and Yang can also be found in Chinese food. Yang foods are usually sweet, spicy and tend to have warm colors like red or orange. They often are dry. Thus, Yang foods are often fried or roasted. Whereas, Yin foods are salty and bitter and moister. Yin Foods are often boiled or steamed. Chinese people believe maintaining the balance of Yin and Yang is very important in order to stay healthy.[4] Ideas and believes Chinese people have about food originates very much from their culture and history. Here, Chinese noodles are also considered medicine. Chinese people believe that “bitterness can release heat in body, improve vision and detoxify the body.” [5] Flavors and tastes of Chinese noodles reflects its culture and tradition as they are developed according to the Yin and Yang theory.

[Chinese Noodles and its Meanings]

Chinese noodles also hold a significant amount of cultural value, believes and identity. They have interesting meaning and background stories associated with each. For example, “Yi mian” also known as the “E-fu mian” is one food that had a strong sense of Chinese culture. Yi- mian means the “Long-life noodle” and symbolizes the idea of longevity. In addition to symbolizing longevity, eating Yi-mian also “signifies prosperity and good luck”.[6] In an entheogenic interview conducted with Whi Jung, a 22 years old college student at University of Washington who is originally Korean but has lived in China for 8 years, Whi claimed that for two birthdays she “spent in China, [her] host mother prepared that long life noodle on my birthdays. They said in festive days they eat that “Long-life noodle.”” She claimed that it was a simple fried noodle with onion chives, but it was her favorite food. Yet, Yi-mian is one of the many noodles that hold their specific meanings.

At times of marriage and moving into new houses people “eat noodles with gravy (打卤面), which means flavored life.” [7] On lunar February 2, people eat dragon whiskers noodles (龙须面) to pray for good weather for their agriculture.[8] Furthermore, “dutiful son’s noodle” also known as “Seafood noodle” has its own story associated. Yi Yin’s (伊尹) mother was sick. Thus, he made nonperishable noodles with eggs and flour so his mother to conveniently eat them even when he wasn’t present. This noodle reveals that idea of filial piety – one of the common believes in China. Other noodles such as the “dan dan noodles,” “sister in law noodle” or “old friend noodles” also holds their own stories. Such noodles each encompass their own stories and meanings related to longevity, filial piety love, friendship and family. Different meanings and background stories associated with each noodle shows that noodles are representations of the traditional believes and philosophy people hold and are deeply related with the history.

 

Noodles in Korea 

[Development of Korean Noodles]

Wheat in Korea was not common due to regional characteristics. Thus, unlike many common noodles found nowadays in China and in Korea that are made of wheat, traditional Korean noodles used buckwheat as its main ingredient. One most commonly known traditional Korean noodle is “Naeng-myun”. “Naeng” which means “cold” comes together with “myun” meaning noodles and thus Naeng-myun is directly translated into cold-noodle. It is a noodle made of buckwheat with chilled soup. Exact record of Naeng myun’s history is not yet found, but it is known that in a <North-Eastern Korea>, historical record written by Chang Yoo, Naeng myun as mentioned as one of the main meals then. Historians claim that “cold noodle with chilled brownish stock” would be equivalent to “Naeng myun” seen today.[9] It is also known that Naeng-myun was more familiar in the Northern part of Korea. It wasn’t until the development of conflict between Northern and Southern Korea in 1930s that Naeng-myun became the famous food in Korea. Due to the proximity of Incheon and Hwannghae-do of North Korea, Naeng-myun from North came down to South and began gaining popularity. An “article about the ‘Naengmyeon Delivery Association’ was even featured in a newspaper in Incheon in 1936.”[10] Since then, noodles in general began to gain popularity in Korea. “Naeng-myun” transformed into different types such as “Bibim-naeng-myun” where spicy sauce was added instead of the stock. Other kinds of noodles such as “Janchi-jooksu” or “Kal-gooksu” also emerged and gained greater popularity since then. All noodles have existed even before the 1930s according to myth, but historical mentions of them only appear in the 20th century.

 [Different Methods of Making Korean Noodles and their Significance]

Here, according to myths, Korean noodles also greatly emphasize the unity in people. For example, Kalgooksoo – literally translated into “knife noodle” is one of the traditional noodles in Korea and is our family’s most beloved noodle. “Kal” in Korean means knife, while “Gooksoo” means noodle. It is called the knife noodle because the noodle itself is created by cutting the flour dough with a big knife. The process of Kalgooksu is rather simple. Thus, it is Korean tradition for family units make Kalguksoo together. It only requires a flour dough to be cut into equally long strings to later be boiled and be finalized by being mixed with kelp stock.

Like so, “So-myun” meaning small noodle in Korean, also pays special attention to the process of making it. Flour dough are flavored by a sprinkle of salt and are dried under sunlight to create a very long string of noodle of usually two meters. Such noodles are then cut into small pieces to be used by the general. The process of making “so-myun” is also done cooperatively by group of people as it requires a simple but long process of making doughs to adding flavors to cutting them into strings of long pieces.

 [Korean Noodles and its Meanings]

Similar to Chinese noodles such as the “dan dan noodles,” “sister in law noodle” or “old friend noodles”, Korean noodles also are associated with their own stories. “Janchi-gooksu” a Korean traditional noodle is directly translated into the “Festive noodle.” This specific noodle is heavily associated with Korean culture. It is a Korean myth that because noodles are physically long, eating them helps people live long lives. This myth also claims that noodles should not be cut. One should eat long noodles as they are without cutting them because cutting them would mean cutting one’s longevity. During an entheogenic interview conducted with Whi, she talked about her grandmother who always forced her to finish a bowl of Janchi Jooksu – as that would bring her luck. Janchi-Jooksu to many Korean people symbolizes longevity and are thought of as lucky food that helps people be healthy and live a longer life. Thus, it is usually eaten in festive days such as the New-year and birthdays. This noodle holds similar meanings with Chinese Yi-mian as both emphasizes the idea of longevity.

Conclusion

Chinese and Korean noodle isn’t just a material for one to gain nourishment from but encompasses a whole lot of deeper meanings. Both Chinese and Korean noodles are associate with different cultural meaning and stories that are usually related to family, freidnship, care, love and longevity. They also both are similar in that both emphasizes the importance of the unity of people eating them together. Yet, one while Chinese noodles are deeply related to the Yin and Yang philosophy, Korean noodles pays more attention to the process of making them. Overall, it can be said that Chinese and Korean noodles is more than just food, but are deeply associated with cultural value, believes and identity.

 

Bibliography

 

The Chinese Kitchen, http://www.meilidezhongguo.com/Pagina’s Eng/Eng. Pag. The Chinese Kitchen.htm.

 

Liu, Junru. Chinese Food. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdbHXKlpPAM&t=1s

 

Gao, Sally. “The Importance of Yin-Yang Philosophy in Chinese Food.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 19 Jan. 2017.

 

Liu, Junru. Chinese Food. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

“Long Life Noodles – Yi Mein (伊面).” The Woks of Life, 3 June 2019, https://thewoksoflife.com/long-life-noodles-yi-mein/.

 

Zhang, Noodles: Traditional and Today, 210

 

 “냉면.” 냉면, https://terms.naver.com/entry.nhn?docId=5725029&cid=43667&categoryId=43667.

 

 “The Origin of Naengmyeon (Cold Noodles): Noodlelovers.” 면사랑(Noodle Lovers), https://www.noodlelovers.com/_eng/developer/m_product_eng_noodle_set/m_index.asp?m_mode=product_view&pds_no=20161122165718485415120&pageno=.

 

[1] The Chinese Kitchen, http://www.meilidezhongguo.com/Pagina’s Eng/Eng. Pag. The Chinese Kitchen.htm.

[2] Liu, Junru. Chinese Food. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

[3] Youtube Video

[4] Gao, Sally. “The Importance of Yin-Yang Philosophy in Chinese Food.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 19 Jan. 2017.

[5] Liu, Junru. Chinese Food. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

[6] “Long Life Noodles – Yi Mein (伊面).” The Woks of Life, 3 June 2019, https://thewoksoflife.com/long-life-noodles-yi-mein/.

[7] Zhang, Noodles: Traditional and Today, 210

[8] Zhang, Noodles: Traditional and Today, 210

[9] “냉면.” 냉면, https://terms.naver.com/entry.nhn?docId=5725029&cid=43667&categoryId=43667.

[10] “The Origin of Naengmyeon (Cold Noodles): Noodlelovers.” 면사랑(Noodle Lovers), https://www.noodlelovers.com/_eng/developer/m_product_eng_noodle_set/m_index.asp?m_mode=product_view&pds_no=20161122165718485415120&pageno=.

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