Koreanized Chinese Cuisine – Jajangmyeon (Black Bean Sauce Noodles)

Jajangmyeon (자장면) (Black Bean Sauce Noodles) is a Chinese cuisine adapted to the Korean style served in most of the Chinese restaurants in South Korea and has now become a favourite food among the Koreans.  You can often see people eating jajangmyeon in Korean TV dramas and variety shows. It is said that every day over 7 million bowls of jajangmyeon are sold in South Korea. This is also one of the foods I often ate when I studied Korean in Seoul.   Let’s talk about jajangmyeon in this blog post.

What is Jajangmyeon?

Jajangmyeon is a non-spicy dish of thick noodles (made from white wheat flour) served with a thick dark brown sweet sauce which is made from a salty black bean soybean paste called chunjang (춘장) stir-fried with diced onions, minced pork/beef and sometimes other vegetables.  Usually, the sauce is placed on the top of the noodles and people use chopsticks to mix the noodles with the sauce before eating. I found this mixing ritual indeed quite interesting. You can watch this video to see how the mixing is done.  The side dish usually served with this dish is danmuji (단무지 – pickled radish) which is yellow in colour and sweet.  The danmuji helps reduce the greasiness of the dish.

History of Jajangmyeon

At the end of the 19th century, some Chinese immigrants began settling in Incheon, a port city west of Seoul and that area became today’s Incheon Chinatown in which Chinese restaurants began to appear.  It was said that in 1905, a Chinese restaurant called Gonghwachun in the Incheon Chinatown started serving jajangmyeonn which was based on the Chinese zhajiangmian (炸醬麵 – literally, “fried sauce noodles”) originated from the Shandong region in China.  Later, caramel was added to the sauce of jajangmyeon to give it a sweeter taste to suit the Koreans’ taste and jajangmyeon has then become a Koreanized Chinese food.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, after the Korean War, people made use of the wheat obtained from the U.S.A. to make noodles and jajangmyeon spread to other parts of South Korea at that time.  In the 1960’s when South Korea was still a very poor country, a bowl of jajangmyeon cost 15 won and was considered as expensive at that time.  So, in the past, parents brought their kids to Chinese restaurants to eat jajangmyeon only on some special days like graduation, birthdays or Childrens’ Day. Although jajangmyeon has now become relatively cheap compared to other dishes, this tradition is still observed by many Korean families.  Therefore, to many Koreans, eating jajangmyeon not only fills one’s stomach but also brings back valuable memories.

In South Korea, apart from eating jajangmyeon in Chinese restaurants, you can order it by phone and the dish can be delivered to your home, office, hotel, other restaurants and even parks where you are located.

As jajangmyeon is a cheap and convenient food which can be ordered easily by phone and delivered quickly, many busy people working in offices and factories and students choose jajangmyeon for their meals. Housewives who are too busy to cook food may also order jajangmyeon to be delivered to their homes.  Jajangmyeon has now become a popular food among the Koreans.  If you study or work in South Korea, jajangmyeon should definitely be one of the foods frequently consumed by you.

Jajangmyeon (자장면) or Jjajangmyeon (짜장면)

There has been some confusion as to the correct Korean word for this dish.  Initially, the Korean word “자장면” (jajangmyeon) was regarded as the standard term but a lot of Koreans pronounced it as jjajangmyeon (짜장면) because it was easier to pronounce and sounded better. Nowadays, both words are accepted as the standard terms for the dish.

Black Day (14 April) is the Jajangmyeon Day

In my blog post dated 14 January 2015,  I mentioned that the 14th of every month is a special day for Koreans to celebrate.  14 April is the Black Day on which singles who do not have lovers to celebrate the Valentine’s Day on 14 February and the White Day on 14 March wear black to “celebrate” this day together.  One of the “must-eat” food on this day is jajangmyeon which has a dark sauce.

Jajangmyeon in Pop Culture

Jajangmyeon is also a popular food often appearing in the Korean TV dramas and variety shows.  Jajangmyeon is a favourite food used for eating contests because after the contestants have eaten the dish very quickly, the faces and mouths of the contestants are smeared with the black bean sauce which looks funny.   You can click the links below to see the relevant video clips:

Jajangmyeon eating contest in the TV drama, “커피프린스 1호점” (“Coffee Prince”)

Park Yoo-chun eating jajangmyeon in the TV drama, “냄새를 보는 소녀” (“The Girl Who Sees Smells”)

Jajangmyeon eating contest in the variety show, “백점만점” (“100 points out of 100”)

If you go to Seoul, don’t forget to visit the Incheon Chinatown and eat jajangmyeon in one of the Chinese restaurants there. It’s a good experience to taste this Koreanized Chinese cuisine in the place where it originates.

Reminder: Due to some personal commitments, the next post will be published on 14 May 2015. Watch this space!

 

References:

Non-spicy Korean foods“, Korea Tourism Organization, 2014-06-13

Jajangmyeon – Not a Chinese food“, Invest Korea, 2013-11-28

Arirang TV, “Jajangmyeon“, 100 Icons of Korean Culture, 2013-08-24

康熙奉編,黃約雯譯,《阿拉搜!韓國》,台北市: 商周出版,2013年版, 185-190

Sunny Lee, “Korean Jajangmyeon popular in China“, The Korea Times, 2009-04-17

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