Friday, August 31, 2018

[Food] Jjajangmyeon (짜장면, A noodle with stir-fried Chinese soybean paste sauce)



(짜장면, A noodle with stir-fried Chinese soybean paste sauce)

My dad used to tell me that his parents (my grandparents) usually took him to a Chinese restaurant on special days, like a birthday, graduation or when he received good grades in his exams etc. Since 1970, as it was for my dad's family, it has become very common for Korean families to go to a Chinese restaurant on their special day. Although an inflow of western foods and restaurants such as pizza, an Italian restaurant, steak house or a buffet have changed this tradition, Korean families still like to go to a Chinese restaurant on their special day

I was in a Chinese restaurant with my family. We were sitting in a room that customers had reserved. On one large round table (a little smaller than those big round tables with the spinning glass), there were decorative red and gold Chinese characters, a dragon on the wall and a huge crystal chandelier on the ceiling. I was sitting at the table and was about to use my long black chopsticks to draw deep fried spicy-sour pork to devour. As I started chewing it, it felt more like a piece of clothing or somewhat like a ball of fur. Then my dad, who was sitting opposite me, said:

"It's time to go to school, young man"


After my question, I felt a throbbing pain in my forehead. Then suddenly my mom and sister, who were sitting eitherside, opened their mouths, and blurted out:


A typical Chinese Restaurant in S.Korea. It is very common to display Chinese liquor inside.



When the super noisy ringing alarm clock dropped and banged my forehead, I found myself in bed, chewing the corner of my blanket. I thought I had had enough supper the night before. I guess this wasn't so.

" hurts...I’m so sure it will be swollen later..."

I woke up with a slightly sweet taste of my saliva. Ewww....I'm going to wash my blanket today - no matter what. It was Saturday 12 noon, and not like what my dad had told me in the dream.

Anyway, what was the most important thing? I was hungry. I looked at my phone and made a phone call for a take-away from the Chinese food eatery, 'Blue Dragon Restaurant'.

A menu book and a menu board on the wall of a Chinese restaurant

"Hello, This is blue dragon restaurant. How may I help you?"

"Oh, Hi. This is Jerry. I'd like to have one large, please."

"I'm sorry, but we don't deliver only one dish. You have to order at least 2 dishes. I know you are our frequent customer, but I can't do it. I made one dish delivery for you last week then my boss nagged me till the end of the day, man. Rules are rules."

Phew....I can't help it, I desperately need one jjajangmyeon right now.

"Fine. Please get me one deep fried dumpling too. I really want it fast, please."

"Don't worry, we will deliver it faster than an express service"

McDonald's delivery scooter in Korea

Deep fried dumplings - a common Chinese dish served in Chinese restaurants in Korea

Actually, Chinese restaurants in Korea are not really 'Chinese'. When Chinese food flows into a country, it adapts to each country's cuisine, which means that Chinese restaurants in Korea are actually 'Korean-style' Chinese food. If I show Chinese food in Korea to a Chinese person, he or she might say 'Zhe bu shi zhong guo de ('This is not Chinese' in Mandarin). Nevertheless, so-called Chinese food in Korea is very popular to Koreans and one of them is 'Jjajangmyeon', which is my lunch today :)

While I wait for my Chinese delivery, let me tell you what Jjajangmyeon is. It is a noodle (Myeon means 'noodle' in Korean) with stir-fried Chinese soybean paste sauce. This soybean paste is called 'Choon Jang' in Korean, which is a mixture of caramel and fermented paste of steamed soybean, flour and salt. And when this Choon Jang is stir-fried with chopped onion and meat or seafood, it finally becomes 'Jjajang', which means 'stir-fried sauce'. Jjajangmeyon was first introduced to Korea in 1918 by Chinese cooks in Incheon and is now loved by Koreans.

China Town in Incheon, Korea, where Jjajangmyeon was first introduced

Choon Jang (A mixture of caramel and a fermented paste of steamed soybean, flour and salt)
Tastes salty, a little sweet and bitter.
It goes very well with 'Peking (Beijing) Duck' (Chinese style roasted duck)

A bowl of noodle and Jjajang

Jjajang also goes really well with Chinese style fried rice. Toppings differ according to the restaurant, but it is usually fried egg (sunny-side up, over hard or omelette) topped on Jjajangmyeon.

I could hear the engine and chain sounds of distant motorcycles from my house. They gradually drew nearer and echoed in my room. I paid 10,000 KRW for these two Chinese dishes. Sealed in a transparent wrap, a white marble-like bowl contained a hot, dark galaxy with the salty smell of Jjajang.

"Yes....welcome to my world, Jjajangmyeon."

And when you eat this noodle, you should thank the cook who kneaded dough for this flexible and long flour-made creature. It isn't easy to make a really good hand-made Chinese noodle, and hand-made noodles have a unique taste. That is why hand-made Jjajangmyeon is still popular in Korea, even though many Chinese restaurants use a noodle machine. Anyway, let’s cut out the small talk and let me eat :)

A video of a noodle master, this is how they make Chinese noodle

You have to mix noodles with Jjajang to eat. Be careful, cuz Jjajang drops can stain your clothes when mixed

A typical side dish in a Chinese restaurant.
Black: Choon Jang / Yellow: Sweet and sour radish
White: Chopped Onion / Red: Kimchi (Famous Korean food, google it :) )
Jjajangmyeon is a very popular and friendly take-away dish in Korea, and Koreans can order them from anywhere for delivery. Believe it or not, Koreans can eat a bowl of Jjajangmyeon at a sports stadium, PC café, pocket ball place, park, bridge, street or a bank of the Han river etc....almost anywhere, which means that you can have a bowl of Jjajangmyeon delivered wherever you are. This is a very unique, special and convenient food delivery culture in Korea. These days, there are so many instant Jjajangmyeon to be enjoyed at home.

Well cooked instant Jjajangmyeon with sunny side up egg top of it

Someday, I really hope that I can go and eat Jjajangmyeon with my children or grandchildren in an old Chinese restaurant. Then, maybe I would be telling them stories about Jjajangmyeon like my old man used to tell me in the Chinese restaurant.

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