Japchae or chapchae (잡채) is a very popular Korean dish consisting of dangmyeon (당면), sweet potato noodles, which can be eaten cold or hot.
What does japchae mean?
Translated literally, the word japchae means “mixed vegetables”. In hangul, the official alphabet for North and South Korea, jap means “mix” and chae means “vegetables”, and it perfectly reflects the content of the dish.
The composition of japchae
The first mention of this dish, in the 17th century, in a Korean cookbook called eumsik dimibang (음식 디), indicated that it was composed only of finely chopped vegetables, but today it is mainly associated with a special type noodles, dangmyeon or sweet potato noodles.
So there were no noodles in earlier versions, and dangmyeon did not appear in this dish until 1919 when a dangmyeon factory first opened in North Korea’s Hwanghae region.
Subsequently, this form of japchae became popular from the 1930s and today, meat (beef and/or pork) and even poultry are very commonly added to it.
Japchae contains different vegetables, usually including spinach, carrots, onion and fragrant mushrooms such as shiitake. It can also be mixed with finely cut meat, previously marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil.
Recently, japchae has grown in various forms with ingredients such as bean sprouts, green pepper, various green vegetables, radishes, cucumbers, turnips, and seafood, to name a few.
Preparing a japchae is a bit like making bibimbap. This usually requires that meat and vegetables, unless it’s a vegetarian version, be prepared and cooked almost individually.
Some might argue that this separate cooking process is not necessary, but cooking them separately improves their individual flavor, texture and color, especially since they all have different cooking times.
A good japchae must have a balanced sweet and savory flavor, a crisp vegetable texture, neither too raw nor too soft, a texture of tender meat and a texture of noodles that are a little firm and not mushy.
Japchae is usually served as a banchan (side dish), although it can also be a main dish.
It is sometimes served on a bed of rice. With rice, it is known as japchae-bap (잡채밥). Japchae can be served hot, at room temperature or cold out of the refrigerator, and can be eaten freshly prepared or the next day.
What is the origin of japchae?
According to the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty, the records of the Joseon Dynasty, the name of the dish originally referred to a dish of sautéed vegetables and mushrooms, first made in the early 17th century by Yi Chung for the banquet of the palace of King Gwanghaegun.
Gwanghaegun was the fifteenth king of Korea in the Joseon period. He reigned from March 17, 1608 to March 15, 1623. His personal name was Yi Hon. The Joseon period is the period in Korean history during which the country was ruled by the Joseon dynasty, sometimes called the Yi dynasty, a dynasty of Korean kings who occupied the throne from 1392 to 1910.
King Gwanghaegun loved japchae so much that he rewarded Yi Chung by promoting him to a high-ranking post equivalent to that of secretary of the Treasury.
Japchae then became a staple of Korean royal court cuisine. Cooked without noodles or meat at the time, japchae was considered a luxurious and elegant dish served to the royal family and senior officials. Cucumbers, radishes and shiitake mushrooms were among the vegetables used at the time.
Japchae, like other royal dishes, was finally adopted in the kitchens of all social classes. Its popularity only really increased when dangmyeon was introduced to Korea by China. These noodles have since become an essential ingredient in japchae.
Even if they enjoy it throughout the year, the Koreans today eat japchae especially during the traditional festivals chuseok (harvest festival) and seollal (lunar new year) or for birthdays. One of the reasons for this is that this dish is very colorful.
Dangmyeon (당면), also spelled dang myun, dangmyun, tang myun or tangmyun, are Korean sweet potato starch noodles, invented in 1919.
They are generally very long, so it is necessary to cut them. Some prefer to cut them before cooking for the convenience of handling them, while others prefer to cut them in the plate.
These noodles are gray or brown and translucent, so they are classified as “cellophane noodles”, which can lead to confusion with other types of translucent noodles or vermicelli, such as soy noodles, but these are sweet potato noodles.
Dangmyeon means “Tang noodles” (Dang). Dang is a general term referring to China, so they are nicknamed “Chinese noodles”.
The birthplace of the dangmyeon is Yantai Zhaoyuang, Shandong Province, east of China. In China, they are called funth.
The story of the dangmyeon began with the Line train of Gyeonggui, a province in South Korea. When the Gyeonggui line was completed in 1906, Chinese food, including dangmyeon, was introduced, centered on Sinuiju and Sariwon, in North Korea, the final destinations.
These noodles, made by Chinese residents in Korea, were then mass produced from 1919 when Yang Jae-ha built a large cotton mill called Gwangheung Gongchang in Sariwon, Hwanghae-do.
At the time, noodles were becoming more and more popular in East Asia because they were easy to store and went well with various other foods.
In the 1930s, an article appeared in the Japanese newspaper that noodles were eaten with sukiyaki, the Japanese version of fondue. Sukiyaki is a food that is regularly linked to bulgogi, a Korean specialty of marinated slices of beef (or pork) that are typically grilled on a barbecue.
- 5 oz. filet mignon of beef or filet mignon or pork shoulder cut into strips ¼ inch (6 mm) wide and 2 inches (5 cm) long
- 2 large dry shiitake mushrooms rehydrated in hot water for 3 hours, and cut into thin strips
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 4 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 large egg
- 4 oz. baby spinach washed and well drained
- 4 oz. dangmyeon sweet potato starch noodles
- 3 scallions cut at an angle, into 2 inches (5 cm) long pieces
- 1 medium onion thinly sliced
- 5 white mushrooms cut into thin strips
- 1 medium carrot cut into thick julienne
- ½ red bell pepper cut into thin strips
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Marinate the beef and shiitake mushrooms.
- Place the beef and shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and mix by hand with 1 clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon caster sugar, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Cover and marinate for 3 hours in the refrigerator.
- Separate the egg.
- Add a pinch of salt to the yolk and beat with a fork.
- Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a heated non-stick pan. Shake the pan so that the oil covers its entire surface, then wipe off, if necessary, the excess heated oil with a paper towel so that only a thin layer of fat remains.
- To keep the jidan as yellow as possible, turn off the heat and pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan.
- Tilt the pan so that the mixture is evenly distributed.
- Cook using the remaining heat in the pan for about 1 minute. Turn the egg over and let it sit in the pan for another minute.
- Once the egg has cooled, cut it into thin strips.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spinach leaves and blanch them for a minute, remove them from the water using a colander and then drain them. Keep the boiling water to cook the noodles.
- Rinse the spinach in cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook.
- Press them strongly by hand to remove any excess water.
- Coarsely chop them and place them in a bowl.
- Add a teaspoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sesame oil. Mix well. Set aside.
- Place the noodles in boiling water, cover and cook for a minute. Stir them with a wooden spoon so they don't stick together. Cover again and continue cooking for another 6 to 7 minutes until the noodles are tender and soft.
- Drain the noodles and cut them several times using kitchen scissors.
- Add the noodles to the spinach bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of caster sugar. Mix well by hand or with a wooden spoon. This process will season the noodles and also prevent the noodles from sticking to each other. Set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil, then the onion, scallion and a pinch of salt.
- Sauté for about 2 minutes until the onions are a little translucent. Transfer the onions to the noodle bowl.
- Reheat the same pan and add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil. Add the white mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 2 minutes until softened and a little juicy. Transfer them to the noodle bowl.
- Reheat the same pan and add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add the carrot and sauté for 20 seconds. Add the red pepper strips and sauté for another 20 seconds. Transfer to the noodle bowl.
- Reheat the same pan and add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil. Add the beef and mushroom mixture and sauté for a few minutes until the beef is no longer pink and the mushrooms are softened and shiny. Transfer to the bowl of noodles.
- Add 1 chopped garlic clove, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon caster sugar, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper and 2 teaspoons sesame oil to the noodle bowl and mix well. all by hand.
- Add the reserved egg garnish and 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. Mix and serve.