Jajangmyeon is a Chinese-inspired Korean specialty. It is a tasty noodle dish topped with a rich fermented soy sauce. Very appreciated in Korea, this recipe impresses at the same time through its history, its symbolism, and of course, its delicious taste.
What is jajangmyeon?
Jajangmyeon (짜장면) is a Korean noodle dish with fermented black soy sauce, accompanied by meat, onions, zucchini and potatoes.
This dish is often prepared with pieces of pork, but you can completely replace this meat with chicken, beef, seafood or simply make a vegetarian version.
The sauce typically used is called chunjang (춘장). This thick, very dark, almost black paste is made with fermented soybeans, wheat flour, salt and sugar. Although you can sometimes read “black bean sauce” on some jars, it is soy and not beans.
Etymologically, jajangmyeon means “fried sauce”, in reference to the way of preparing the dish. Indeed, in order to amplify its flavor while eliminating the slight bitterness of the sauce, it is first fried in oil before being mixed with the rest of the ingredients.
What are the origins of jajangmyeon?
Jajangmyeon or jjajangmyeon (both spellings are accepted by the National Institute of the Korean Language) is actually an adaptation of a Chinese culinary specialty.
Historically, the dish first entered Korea through the the port city of Incheon in 1883, after a large wave of immigration from China’s Shandong Province. Chinese immigrants gathered in the same neighborhood, building what was to be the very first Korean Chinatown.
Cuisine being an important part of Chinese culture, they then tried to recreate their traditional recipes with local ingredients. This is how the recipe for zhajiangmian, a specialty from northern China, was made into jajangmyeon in its Korean version.
Cheap, it became the favorite quick meal for merchants and workers in the port of Incheon. Over time, the excitement around the dish grew in the city and then spread to the rest of the country.
It is Gonghwachun, a restaurant located in the Chinatown district of Incheon and ran by a chef from Shandong, which is known to be the first to offer jajangmyeon on its menu. It is also considered today as the official birthplace of the dish.
In 2012, part of the restaurant was transformed into a jjajangmyeon museum. No less than 6 exhibition rooms retrace the birth, history and evolution of the famous noodle dish.
For what occasion is jajangmyeon consumed?
In Korea, this dish is traditionally eaten during special events: birthday meals, graduation, but also Black Day.
Black Day is a day specially dedicated to single people, which is celebrated on April 14. Indeed, according to Korean custom, it is women who offer gifts to men on Valentine’s Day.
On March 14, also known as White Day, it is men who buy presents for women. On Black Day, people who have not received gifts console themselves by wearing black clothes, going out to dinner with friends … and eating jajangmyeon.
Easy to carry and quick to make, jajangmyeon is also the star dish of food delivery. Koreans are used to ordering them when they move, or simply to spend a quiet evening at home. It is somehow similar to ordering pizza in the West.
What is the difference between jajangmyeon and zhajiangmian?
Today, the popularity of Korean jjajangmyeon around the world has far surpassed that of its predecessor, zhajiangmian, which is the original recipe. But how are the two dishes different?
The first difference is first of all in the sauce. Even though the two condiments are made from black soybean paste, chunjang also contains caramel, which gives it a sweeter taste than the zhajiangmian sauce.
The second difference comes from the preparation method of the recipe. While in the Korean recipe, the vegetables are cooked before being incorporated into the sauce, in the Chinese version the vegetables remain raw and crunchy.
The two versions are therefore quite similar in the end and equally delicious. Jajangmyeon is rich and delicious, zhajiang mian is fresher. The latter is also considered a summer dish in China.
Jajangmyeon (짜장면) is a Korean specialty made from noodles with a fermented black soybean paste, onions, zucchini and potatoes.
- 3 lb fresh jajangmyeon (or udon or kalguksu noodles)
- 5 oz. diced fresh onions
- 1 medium zucchini (courgette) diced
- 2 large potatoes diced
- 8 oz. large Korean song ryngii mushrooms (or finely sliced button mushrooms)
- ¼ white cabbage about ⅓ lb / 160 g, cut into medium-sized pieces
- 1½ lb pork cutlets diced
- 1 tablespoon rice wine (or mirin)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
- 7 tablespoons chunjang (or jjajang black soybean paste)
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons rice wine (or mirin)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 5 tablespoons potato starch (or cornstarch), diluted in 4 tablespoons water)
- 1 large cucumber julienned
- Peas (or corn)
- Hard-boiled egg (optional)
- A pan of water must be ready to cook the noodles. Turn the heat on to boil the water when the meat begins cooking. This way, the boiling water will be ready at the right time, for cooking the noodles.
- Wash the pork in cold water and dry it well with paper towels.
- Mix all the ingredients for the pork marinade, add the pork, mix well and marinate for 20 minutes.
- Preheat a large wok until the bottom is well heated.
- Add the oil and heat it over medium heat.
- Add the black bean paste and stir constantly for 4 minutes without burning it.
- Add the brown sugar and stir for another 2 minutes.
- Remove the black bean paste from the heat, drain and collect the oil and set aside.
- Pour the oil into the wok for use during the next step.
- Add the pork to the wok and stir until the pork is half cooked.
- Add the onion, zucchini and potato and stir for 5 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and cabbage and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.
Add the black bean paste that was set aside and mix.
- Stir for about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken broth, water and rice wine and simmer for 6 minutes over medium heat, covered.
- Add the diluted starch and stir to thicken the sauce.
- Add the noodles to the boiling water.
- Boil them for 3 to 4 minutes or until cooked.
- Drain the noodles and rinse them in cold water.
- Divide them in 6 bowls or deep dishes.
- Add the black bean mixture to the noodles.
- Decorate with cucumber slices, green peas or corn and/or a hard-boiled egg.