Has a Korean drama ever left you craving food? Two years ago, my editor introduced me to a K-drama series called Wok of Love, and, just two episodes into the Netflix show began my hunt for a dish I had never heard of or tasted before – jjajangmyeon or jajangmyeon.
Meat, onion, and vegetables stir-fried and cooked in black bean sauce poured over steaming hot noodles. I don’t know if it was Lee Joon-Ho's skill of tossing the vegetables in the wok, or the shots of the hand-pulled noodles, that I fell in love with. I wanted to find the noodle dish in the UAE.
Soon, I was googling ‘Korean restaurants near me’ or looking up recipes to try making the dish myself. I even found a stall at Global Village, which sells jjajangmyeon, among other K-drama-famous dishes.
Many bowls of jjajangmyeon later, I am still not sure how authentic jjajangmyeon tastes.
Today is the perfect day to talk about this dish. It’s Black Day in South Korea, a day when single people celebrate ‘singleness’ by eating jjajangmyeon because of the colour of the sauce and wearing black clothes.
At its roots, 짜장면 (jjajangmyeon), or black bean noodles, is a dish made of noodles imported from China. In the late 19th century, the Chinese recipe reached Incheon, Korea, along with Chinese migrant workers.
“It is said that in 1905, a Chinese restaurant called Gonghwachun in Incheon, Chinatown, started serving jjajangmyeon, based on the Chinese zhajiangmian (炸醬麵 – literally translates to fried sauce noodles), originated from the Shandong region in China. Later, caramel was added to the sauce of jjajangmyeon to give it a sweeter taste to suit Korean taste preferences and jjajangmyeon became a ‘Koreanised’ Chinese dish," says an article on koreancultureblog.com.
Today it is a favourite among Koreans and K-culture fans and is often featured in TV shows. K-pop band BTS’ singer Jungkook even shared a recipe during a TV show in 2021, which fans tried to recreate in their home kitchens.
Today, jjajangmyeon might be a cheap meal, but, when it was introduced, it used to be an expensive dish that was served only on special occasions. This is perhaps why it became the food to eat at graduations.
If you are celebrating Black Day or Singles’ Day, or want to support your single friends by cooking jjajangmyeon for them, here’s a recipe.
Recipe: Korean-style Jjangmyeon or noodles with black bean sauce
By Chef Keum Ran Won, Special to Gulf News
- 150 gms Black soybean paste (store bought)
- 150 ml cooking oil
- 2 tbsp green onion oil (made by frying 2 tbsp green onions in 2 tbs of cooking oil and strained)
- 70 gms beef or chicken (boneless, cut into small pieces)
- 1 tspn dark soy sauce
- 2 tspn sugar
- 60 gms onion chopped in big pieces
- 60 gms cabbage (chopped)
- 60 gms pumpkin (chopped)
1. On a medium-high flame, stir-fry the black soybean paste with the cooking oil so that it does not burn.
2. Now, stir-fry the meat pieces in this, adding the onion oil.
3. Add two teaspoons of sugar and gently pour in the dark soy sauce when the pan is hot. Remove and set aside.
3. In a pan, add cooking oil, onion, cabbage, and pumpkin.
4. Once cooked, mix them with the roasted black soybean paste made earlier. If you need to thicken the sauce, you can add some cornstarch.
5. Add salt and sugar to taste.
6. Add handmade or store-bought plain flour noodles (cooked) and mix them with the sauce.