Busan Milmyeon: A Dish Made by Refugees

Hear the story of milmyeon noodle soup—a legacy of the Korean War

West Pyongyang Noodle House in Daegyo-dongProvisional Capital Memorial Hall

Milmyeon noodles, made by refugees

The Korean War had a great impact on the history, culture, and economy of the Busan region. One of Busan's most typical dishes, milmyeon (a cold noodle soup), was created by refugees who fled there during the Korean War.

The EobukProvisional Capital Memorial Hall

When the Korean War broke out, refugees from North Korea opened restaurants selling naengmyeon, a cold noodle dish that was particularly popular in Hamheung and Pyongyang. The main ingredients were buckwheat flour and potato starch, which were difficult to find in Busan. Some restaurants therefore started making and selling wheat noodles called milmyeon, using cheap wheat that was being imported as aid at the time. That was the beginning of milmyeon, a dish that is now typical of Busan. 

Aid food being distributed in front of the US army base after the warProvisional Capital Memorial Hall

The main ingredients of naengmyeon—potato starch and buckwheat flour—were very expensive because they were difficult to find in Busan. However, the US had greatly expanded its provision of aid abroad through agricultural products under the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act. As a result, flour was being brought into Korea in large quantities and began to be distributed to citizens and refugees.

US grain aid being unloaded at Busan PortProvisional Capital Memorial Hall

As flour became widely available in the markets, it became very cheap. And as flour got cheaper, it became the main ingredient for noodles. And that is how the wheat noodles known as milmyeon came to be.

A milmyeon noodle restaurant in a shackProvisional Capital Memorial Hall

Milmyeon soup first appeared in naengmyeon restaurants and other restaurants in areas where many refugees lived, such as Uam-dong, Gaegeum, Gaya, and Danggam-dong, signaling how its history is tied to that of refugees. 

Milmyeon noodles menu boardProvisional Capital Memorial Hall

Milmyeon soup, made with soft wheat noodles in a cool broth, soon captivated the tastes of not only refugees but also the people of Busan. Even after the Korean War ended, restaurants selling milmyeon continued to appear throughout the city. Milmyeon (also known as cheap naengmyeon) has been transformed from a food that soothed homesick refugees during hard times to a local comfort food for anyone who is hungry and tired. 

There are now a large number of restaurants specializing in milmyeon in Busan. Today, most of the city's famous milmyeon restaurants are run by the descendants of refugees or local people who have inherited their recipes from refugees. 

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