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A culinary union flourishes in South Korea

A cold soup serves as a cultural tie between North and South Korea.

By Bryan KayCorrespondent / March 14, 2012



Baengnyeong Island, S. Korea

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

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As the mists lift, a hint of the forbidden comes into view just 10 miles across the rough coastal seas. This is one of South Korea’s frontline outposts, located in the Yellow Sea near the Northern Limit Line, the very edge that divides blood brother and political foe North Korea.

But it was not always this way – before the partition of North and South, the island group was one of four that belonged to the mainland province visible through the mists to the north, now part of an enemy state.

Though cut off from their brethren for six decades, some older island residents still recall a time when they could cross freely. On a cultural level, they carry on a culinary legacy by hosting some of the most authentic versions of a cold noodle dish that also belongs squarely to the North: mul naengmyeon.

On Baengnyeong, in simple restaurants, this icy concoction of buckwheat noodles, beef broth, thinly sliced radishes, and half a boiled egg, is served to a steady stream of island residents, tourists, and South Korean soldiers.

While many visitors are eager to catch a glimpse of the forbidden through binoculars, vestiges of lasting ties lurk beneath the surface of life here. Until relatively recently, visitors from North Korea were said to regularly drift across the precarious waters.

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