Korean Spicy Cold Noodles

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Recently returned from a year teaching English in Korea, my friend Kerissa Barron has been introducing me to some of her favorite dishes, including this one, a spicy cold noodle salad, with lots of toppings.

It’s known as bibim guksu in Korean, and if you’ve ever had bibimbap, it’s a lot like that, but chilled, and with thinly sliced raw vegetables and a hard cooked egg. The sauce that holds it all together is sweet and spicy and made with red chili paste, rice vinegar, sugar, and sesame. So good!

I recommend making extra sauce and just keeping some around to dress up leftovers. The meal comes together quickly, the most time needed to cut up the vegetables.

Korean Spicy Cold Noodles

Here’s what Kerissa has to say about it:

Having lived in Korea, where summers are not only hot but extremely humid, when I think summer, I think spicy cold noodles (bibim guksu in Korean). Also, having grown up in a very hot part of California with a mother who literally forbade us to turn on the oven from June until October, I understand the importance of dishes that require little to no cooking to get us through these hottest of months.

However, do not be fooled by the simplicity of preparation. Korean food, and in particular these Korean noodles, are extremely flavorful. Between the red chile paste, sesame oil and rice vinegar these noodles hit all the flavor notes: spicy, sweet, salty, tangy and nutty.

Feel free to use the dressing to make any variety of cool summer dishes. It would make a great salad simply by tossing with lettuce or thinly sliced cucumbers, or even being poured over sliced cold tofu or cooked chicken.

Do you have a favorite cold noodle dish for hot summer days? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Korean Spicy Cold Noodles Recipe

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  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 3-4

Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles are used for this recipe, which you can usually find in the international section of the grocery store. You can also use somen noodles, Korean wheat noodles (guksu), arrow root noodles, sweet potato starch noodles, or even spaghetti or angel hair pasta.

The toppings are flexible as well. Add, subtract, adjust to your taste and availability.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb soba (buckwheat) noodles (can sub practically any favorite noodle)

Choose from assorted toppings:

  • Lettuce, thinly sliced
  • Green and/or red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • Cucumber, julienned
  • Carrot, julienned
  • Asian pear, julienned
  • Green onions, thinly sliced
  • Sesame (perilla) leaves, thinly sliced (while traditional for this dish, you can skip)
  • Radish sprouts
  • Cabbage and/or radish kimchi
  • 2 hard boiled eggs

Sauce:

  • 4 Tbsp Korean red chili paste (gochu jang)*
  • 4 Tbsp rice vinegar (un-seasoned or seasoned will both work)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

* Korean red chile paste is a thick, sweet, and slightly garlicky paste made of fermented red chiles. It is available at some asian food stores and at Korean markets. If it is unavailable in your area feel free to use this substitute with similar results:

1 tablespoon hot paprika (or can use 1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika plus 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
5 teaspoons corn syrup (light or dark)
1 teaspoon miso paste (miso is fermented and will help approximate the flavor of the gochu jang, if you don't have it, you can omit)
1 mashed garlic clove
1 tablespoon water
Salt, to taste

Method

1 On the stovetop, fill a medium large pot with water and bring to a boil. While the water is heating, prepare toppings and the sauce. Prepare the lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, carrots, asian pear, sesame leaves and radish sprouts. Set aside. Cut each hard boiled egg in half. Set aside.

2 In a small bowl, combine red pepper paste, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Stir to combine and set aside.

3 Once the water is boiling, add buckwheat, or other type, of noodle and cook according to package instructions, or about six minutes, until al dente. When noodles are finished cooking, pour into a collander and rinse with cold water and drain. To quickly cool your noodles you may also place a few ice cubes in the collander or place the drained noodles into the freezer for a short time, just don't forget them!

4 To serve, place cooled noodles in a medium sized bowl. Top with dressing and vegetables/fruit of your choice. Place one of the hard-boiled egg halves on top and a few radish sprouts.

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Links:

Spicy, sweet, and vinegary noodles (bibim guksu) from My Korean Kitchen

Bibim Guksu (Korean spicy cold noodles) from Eating and Living

Judy Chung Peacocks Ramen Bibim Guksu from the Brooklyn Kitchen

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Showing 4 of 22 Comments

  • MH604

    This dish is so easy to make and so pretty. My shortcut is buying a bag of coleslaw instead of a big head of cabbage I would not be able to use up, less chopping ;)I used potato noodle, I like the chewy texture better.

  • Sandra Lina

    Dana — Try using less sauce. The more sauce you use, the spicier it is. Either cut down the amount of sauce you make, or add it little by little until you get the right effect. Also, try eating it with something cool on the side. Cold asian pears are always good!

    Anyway — I just had a craving for this wrapped in lettuce, like little spicy noodle lettuce wraps. Oh, man. I’m going to have to make some when I get back from work now. It’s been on my brain since you posted this the other day! Bad, Elise, bad! Don’t tempt pregnant women! :(

  • Dana

    Holy hot deliciousness! This was SO good — but SOOOO hot! Maybe we weren’t supposed to mix all of the dressing in with noodles….it was so tasty, but so INCREDIBLY spicy! Kept adding more carrots and lettuce and cucumbers to cut it down. We loved it – might just find a way to take down the kick a notch next time.

  • Linda

    Looking forward to trying another excellent sounding recipe from you, Elise. You suggested posting the recipes we like to use, so here are two of them:

    SPICY COLD TOSSED BROCCOLI

    1 bunch broccoli, thinly sliced
    1/4 cup soy sauce
    1 tablespoon sugar
    2 tablespoons rice vinegar
    2 tablespoons sesame oil
    1 tablespoon fresh ginger root — peeled and minced
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

    Combine the soy sauce, sugar, and rice vinegar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.

    Heat a wok or a skillet, add the sesame oil, and heat until hot. Add the ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes and stir-fry for about 10 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Pour over the broccoli and toss to coat. Let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours before serving.

    PEANUT SAUCE (From the lid of Smucker’s Peanut Butter)

    1/3 cup Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter
    1 tsp. garlic powder
    2 T. lemon juice
    2 T. soy sauce
    1 tsp. sugar
    1/3 cup water
    Sprinkle of cayenne

    Place ingredients in bowl, stir well, and microwave for 30 seconds. Pour over chicken, noodles or your other favorite dish.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for posting this!! This is excellent, going to be one of my staple summer meals. I made the sauce exactly as in the recipe and used the vegetables (carrots, daikon radish, cabbage, cucumber, snow peas, spinach) and pasta (brown rice spaghetti) that I had on hand. This recipe would make 6-8 meals for me – to make this leftover friendly, I stored the veggies in one container and the pasta (tossed with two teaspoons of sesame oil) in another. Then it’s all ready to assemble.

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