Janchi guksu (Banquet Noodles) and Bibim guksu (Spicy Noodles)


Eating a bowlful of ‘Janchi guksu’ makes one feel full and warm. ‘Bibim guksu’, on the other hand, creates a harmony of spicy sauce and silky noodles. At a first glance, it seems that these two noodle dishes have little in common. ‘Janchi guksu’ and ‘Bibim guksu’, however, are both cheaply available and made of a plain noodle base. They may seem dissimilar at first, but have more in common than you might think if you look a little closer.


Bibim guksu’s’ soy sauce soup base: Janchi guksu’s beef soup base

Bibim guksu is a popular dish with a long history. Records of its consumption date back to literature of the Joseon Dynasty. Then, it was called ‘Guksu Bibim (Noodles mixed) or ‘Goldongmyeon’. ‘Goldong’ also means mix, which is why the rice dish ‘Bibimbap’ used to be called ‘Goldongban’ a long time ago. You can call any combination of mixed noodle dish ingredients ‘Bibim guksu,’ but historically the dish has been made with a soy sauce base.

According to ancient literature, Bibim guksu is cooked as follows. Marinated beef is stir fried, before julienne salted cucumbers are washed, dried with sesame oil, and fried. Julienne soaked shiitake mushrooms are then fried with soy sauce and sesame oil. The noodles are boiled and dried, before being mixed with the other ingredients. Soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame salt, sesame, regular salt, and sugar, are added. The dish is served with sliced fried egg, shredded red pepper, and fried manna lichen on top.
Janchi guksu was also once known as ‘Guksu Jangguk’ (Noodles in Clear Soup) or ‘Onmyeon’ (Warm Noodles). It was served at large feasts, to symbolize long life and good luck, and so came to acquire the name ‘Banquet Noodles’. They were an important dish at wedding ceremonies, as well as first birthday celebrations and at sacrificial tables for ancestors.

To make this dish, noodles were washed to remove any oil, and boiled with a clear beef-based broth. Sliced fried egg, black manna lichen slices, shredded red pepper, green pumpkin or green onion, and vegetables such as water parsley, were placed on top. The white noodles, yellow fried egg, black manna lichen, shredded red pepper and green vegetables together represented Korea’s five cardinal colors.


Post Korean-War popularity and flour aid from the U.S

Although there were no set ingredients for spicy noodles or banquet noodles, they were, more often than not, made with buckwheat. Buckwheat is a very common ingredient in Korea. Noodles made of flour were rare, and hard to find historically on the peninsula, because of its cool and dry climate, which is not suitable for the cultivation of wheat.

According to the ancient literature ‘Goryeodogyeong’, what was ‘precious in Korea, and cannot be eaten unless at a special banquet.’ The book ‘Gosasipyijib’, published at the end of the Joseon dynasty, states that although ‘Noodles are, elsewhere, actually made of wheat, but we (Koreans) make noodles with buckwheat’. Wheat was imported from China as a luxury good. Noodles themselves were considered a noble food, fit for notable occasions, and not the cheap, convenient food we’ve come to see them as today.

Noodle culture in Korea changed dramatically during and after the Korean War. During the Japanese colonial era, the production and consumption of flour grew to an all-time high. The Japanese Government­General of Korea pushed for the cultivation of wheat as a premium good. Toward the end of the 1930’s, the Japanese encouraged the consumption of a mixed diet during the way, and thus 2 million bags of wheat were produced in Korea each year.

The main reason noodles came to be a staple food, however, is thanks to relief wheat received from the United States. In 1956, Korea received 114­thousand tons of wheat aid from the USA. The once ‘noble’ wheat became a common ingredient. A total of twenty-two milling factories began to operate domestically, and a total of 1.3 million tons of wheat were processed. Flour based food became accessible by the public. In the 1960’s, rice was scarce, and so the Korean government encouraged the consumption of flour-based food. The golden age of noodles had begun!


Traditional Janchi guksu’s modern-day successor: Gupo Noodles

Janchi guksu and Bibim guksu have received a modern makeover. Now, Janchi guksu and Bibim guksu’s noodles are made of wheat. As flour wheat is the ideal ingredient with which to make noodles, and wheat is now cheaper than buckwheat or potatoes, there is no real reason to make noodles with any other ingredient. Among the many types of flour noodles, plain, thin noodles with added salt and oil have become the most popular.

Bibim guksu’s sauce changed from traditionally soy sauce, to a chili paste. Food experts are unsure of when exactly this change took place, however speculate that Korean tastes evolved into a preference for sweeter, spicier, and more pungent sauces.

The main ingredient for Janchi guksu soup base became anchovies, as opposed to beef or other ingredients. Up until just 100 years ago, anchovies were rarely used as a soup base. Even now, some inland communities do not use anchovies in their soup bases, because of its fishy smell and slightly bitter taste.

Anchovies came to be used as a soup base in Korea during the Japanese colonial era. In Japan, anchovies were in high demand for soup and animal feed. Anchovies that were not exported were sold to the Joseon people for soup. After Korea’s liberation from Japan, unstable diplomatic relations meant that all exports were prohibited, and all anchovies were consumed domestically. Koreans purchased anchovies cheaply in the market for their soup bases.

Janchi guksu with anchovy soup broth became especially popular in the Gyeongnam province, in cities such as Busan, Tongyeong, Gimhae, and Masan, where anchovies are plentiful. Janchi guksu’s eaten in the Gyeongnam area was known as ‘Gupo guksu’. There were many noodle factories in Gupo, located at the mouth of the Nakdong River, toward the west of Busan and Gimhae. The salty sea breeze and rich sunshine in the Gupo area prevented the noodles from going soggy, and maintained a chewy texture. Plain noodles here acquired the brand name of ‘Gupo guksu’.

High-quality anchovy soup made with high-quality Gupo guksu noodles insures delicious Janchi guksu. Gupo guksu includes toppings of green chives – known as ‘Jeongguj’ in the Gyeonsang­province - black seaweed, brown sesame, yellow danmuji (pickled radish) and red sauce. This is a modern, Gyeongsang province-style take on the traditional Janchi guksu, with its five cardinal-colored sliced egg, manna lichen, shredded pepper, and vegetables.

The best Gupo guksu store is ‘Daedong Halmae Guksu’ located in Gimhae’s Daedong village, across the Nakdong river from Gupo. One one dish - ‘Guksu’ – is served here. Upon ordering, customers are presented with a stainless steel bowl of freshly cooked plain noodles with chives, seaweed, sesame, pickled radish and sauce. Anchovy soup in a nickel silver pot is served alongside the noodles, and ‘Ttaengcho’ (strong pepper) is added to the noodles, Gyeongsang­province style. The bitter taste of anchovies and deep soup broth goes perfectly with the ttaengcho. Fantastic Gup guksu is also served at Gupo market’s ‘Yiwonhwa gupo guksi’, Busan Geumjeong­gu’s ‘Gupochon guksu’, Gyeongnam Miryang’s handmade plain noodle manufacturer ‘Susan Guksu’ and the restaurant ‘Daebok sikdang,’ located opposite.


Thanks to the Economic Depression: Bibim guksu and Janchi guksu’s Second Golden Era

The ‘eating out’ culture which came around in the 1980’s, thanks to increased average income and the availability of varied foods, brought a decline in noodles’ popularity. Economic depression, however, brought the second golden era of noodles. Restaurants serving noodle dishes increased significantly in the mid 2000s, with Janchi guksu and Bibim guksu as the two leading dishes. Affordable and filling, there were no noodle dishes which could compete with these two staples.

‘Manghyang bibim guksu’ in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi­do, played a pivotal role in reigniting the Bibim guksu trend. This restaurant poured a red soup broth on the plain noodles in a bowl, making it more watery than traditional Bibim guksu. The noodles and vegetable soup broth mixed easily with chopsticks, with a spicy and sweet taste. For customers annoyed by having to mix sticky noodles, or who disliked the strong taste of chili paste, this new ‘Manghyang bibim guksu’ was a problem solver. Soon, popular Bibim guksu restaurants across the peninsula were imitating this soup style.
There are also many popular stores with guksu dishes unlike the ‘Manghyang bibim guksu’ style. ‘Yeongil bunsik,’ located in in Moonrae­dong’s ironwork alley, serves bibim guksu with roughly chopped kimchi and its whole topknot. Its sauce is not a chili paste, but a spicy and clean tasting soy sauce and chili powder. ‘Jinjoojib’ in Yeouido is also famous for its kongguksu (cold bean­soup noodles), and their bibim guksu is as delicious and chewy as ‘Jjolmyeon, with a sweet and spicy sauce. ‘Bibim guksujib’ in the Jeil Pyeonhwa market serves Bibim guksu so spicy it leaves customers with steaming eyes and a runny nose – and an unforgettably delicious memory!
There are also many good restaurants famous for Janchi guksu outside of the Gyeongnam province. Specific restaurants are “Masinun Janchi guksu” in Yongmoon­dong, Seoul, “Somunnan Myeolchi guksu” in Gongreung­dong, “Buheung guksu” in Uijueongbu, “Mijeong guksu” in Nonhyeon­dong, “Halmeoni guksu” in Joongang market, “Illyu bunsik” in Namdaemoon market, “Eonjo guksu” in Inwang market, “Wonjo Janchi guksu Jeonmun” in Mangwon­dong, “Wonjo guksujib” in Haengju sanseong fortress, and “Chueumcheoreom” in Ungilsan.

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