Popular North Korean dish may have appeared in Chicago before South Korea

October 2, 2014

A newly emerged text of a speech given by Dosan Ahn Chang-ho suggests so

(Pyongyang)

Pyongyang Naengmyun (Yonhap)

Did Pyongyang naengmyun — a Korean summer staple — make its first appearance in Chicago long before it arrived in Seoul?

A newly emerged text of a speech given by Ahn Chang-ho, an independence activist during Japanese imperial rule in Korea, suggests so.

According to the document, naengmyun was brought to the Windy City by former ambassador Jang Yi-wook, then a student at the University of Dubuque, in 1915, five years before it saw its debut on Seoul tables.

Independence fighter Ahn Chang-ho, third from right, during his 1925 visit to Chicago with Jang Yi-wook, second from left.

Independence fighter Ahn Chang-ho, third from right, during his 1925 visit to Chicago with Jang Yi-wook, second from left.

“When I passed through this place 10 years ago, I was presented with naengmyun by Mr. Jang,” Ahn said in a 1925 speech given to Chicago Koreans, one of many he gave during a U.S. tour of independence news to Koreans living in cities like Denver, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Detroit.

Verification is underway to make sure the Jang mentioned by Ahn is the presumed Ambassador Jang.

Ahn is known to have been a naengmyun aficionado; stories of his request for the cold buckwheat noodles during his four-year imprisonment under Japanese imperial rule are well-known, as are tales of Ahn emptying two bowls naengmyun every time he met with fellow independence fighter Kim Koo.

As its name suggests, Pyongyang naengmyun became a trend in Pyongyang around the end of the 19th century.

A two-story naengmyun shop stood in the city in the 1910s, and by the 1920s the dish had spread across town to dozens of locations.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that Pyongyang naengmyun entered Seoul. By the 1930s, the noodles had gained so much popularity that it was commonly available for delivery.

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