3 articles Articles posted in korean

Jjajangmyeon (자장면 or Noodles in Black Bean Sauce)


I have to confess that I ate my very first bowl of jjajangmyeon (자장면) in Grenada. My Korean friend Terry (remember, she’s the one who likes to make things like tofu, miso, and kimchi from scratch!) invited me over for lunch one day and to my surprise and delight, she presented me with an overflowing bowl of noodles covered in sweet black bean sauce. And of course, there was a side of danmuji (yellow, pickled radish) to go along with it too.

Jjajangmyeon is originally a Chinese noodle dish (zhajiangmian 炸酱面) with regional variations in China. The most widely known is probably the Beijing version, which is made with a salty yellow soybean paste called huangdoujiang or simply huangjiang. In other areas of China, it is also made with doubanjiang (a fermented broad bean sauce common in Sichuan), hoisin sauce, or a sweet bean sauce called tianmianjiang.

When Chinese immigrants first started working in Incheon, Korea, they missed the flavors of home so much that they brought bean paste with them to make Chinese zhajiangmian. The Koreans picked up on this business opportunity quickly and soon began selling their own version of the bean paste, called chunjang, which is made by combining roasted soybean paste with a caramel base. It seems to be most similar to the Chinese tianmianjiang.


I prefer the Korean version of this dish to the Chinese version because I think the sweetness balances out the bitterness of the black beans nicely. To make the Korean version, I use a Korean “Chinese black bean paste” from HMart, with caramel included in its contents. The consistency is a bit more liquid than many other types of bean pastes.

Jjajangmyeon is typically served with wheat noodles, which you can find fresh or dried at Asian grocery stores. If those aren’t available, spaghetti works fine too! The vegetables in this dish can vary based on what’s in season but usually consist of potato cubes, zucchini, and in the Korean version, onions (which add sweetness). In Grenada, I substitute with cabbage because some of the other vegetables are hard to find. Traditionally, pork belly is used because the rendered fat is what is used to “fry” the sauce, but you can also use lean pork and vegetable oil as a healthier alternative. Incidentally, this treatment of the sauce is what gives this dish its name — literally, “fried sauce noodles” in both Korean and Chinese.

Here’s Terry’s basic recipe for jjajangmyeon. The only change I made was to cut the amount of oil in half to make it a bit healthier. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

4 servings

1/2 lb. pork belly (or lean pork)
1/2 cup sweet black bean paste (also known as chunjang in Korean and tianmianjiang in Chinese — look for caramel in the ingredients and a thin consistency)
1/4 c. fat rendered from pork belly and/or vegetable oil
2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1 large potato
1 onion
1/3 head of cabbage (about 1 c. chopped), or substitute zucchini or daikon
2 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1/4 cup water
1 16 oz. pack of wheat or spaghetti noodles
cucumber matchsticks for garnish

1. Dice the pork belly, potatoes, onions, and cabbage (or zuchhini or daikon) into 1/2″ cubes.

2. In a large wok, fry the pork belly with 2 Tbsp. of vegetable oil until the pork is cooked and crispy.

3. Separate the pork belly and the fat/oil.

4. Add vegetable oil to the rendered pork fat until you have 1/4 cup. Put back into the wok.

5. Pour the black bean paste into the oil and fry for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

6. Meanwhile, start boiling water for your noodles. Prepare according to the package directions. Noodles can be a little softer than al dente for jjajangmyeon. Drain noodles when done and set aside.

7. After about 10 minutes, the sauce should look thinner and smoother. Half of the oil will still be separated from the sauce, but that’s okay. Pour out the sauce and put the excess oil back into the wok.

8. Begin stir-frying the vegetables in the wok with the oil, beginning with the potatoes. Add in the onions and cabbage (or zucchini or daikon) after about 2-3 minutes. Lastly, add in the pork.

9. Pour the fried paste into the vegetable and pork mixture, stir until coated evenly.

10. Add in the chicken stock and bring to a low simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes.

11. After 10 minutes, check to see if the potatoes are cooked. They should be just cooked through and still feel a bit firm.

12. Add in the corn starch, dissolved in water. Stir the sauce until thickened.

13. Season with additional salt and sugar as needed.

14. Serve over bed of noodles. Garnish with cucumber matchsticks. Enjoy!



The Story of Budaejjigae, Korea’s “Army Base Stew” (부대찌개)

While preparing for our trip to Seoul in November, I came across an interesting Korean dish called budaejjigae (부대찌개), which translates to “army base stew.” Being a fan of Shin Ramyun, the Korean instant noodles with an almost cult following of Asians around the world, the idea of a spicy stew composed of Korean ramen and a mishmash of crazy toppings, including Spam, instantly appealed to me. I know — that either sounds very right or very wrong to you. Let me get to that in a moment.

Regardless of whether this is a dish you think you might ever want to try, suffice it to say that budaejjigae has a fascinating history. And during my time in Seoul, I was fortunate to meet the lady whom many believe to be the creator of this stew. She’s still making it to this day! You can find out more about her and the origins of budaejjigae in my story in the Washington Post’s travel section today. 

Now, as for whether this dish is worth trying… If you’re a fellow Shin Ramyun devotee, let me just say — one taste of budaejjigae, and you will understand the true meaning of Shin Ramyun. But if you’re balking at the whole idea of paying for a bowl of instant noodles at a restaurant, or asking why you would want to go to Korea to eat Spam — let’s just start over, shall we? This is not a bowl of glorified instant noodles. This is a Korean feast. So: think bubbling Korean stews cooked at the table with fresh ingredients — onions, scallions, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), kimchi, tofu, leafy greens. Then, yes, add Spam and ramen and whatever else you like — it will all simmer in the rich, spicy broth, soaking in the flavors of the stew. To eat, serve with kimchi and rice. If you truly are not an adventurous eater, I suppose you could substitute in “real” meat (in Korea, Spam is made with real meat!) and maybe some Korean glass noodles. But if you don’t eat kimchi, I can’t help you there.

This is also an easy dish to recreate at home. It’s not quite the same as digging into a big black cauldron of budaejjigae in the dish’s native Uijeongbu, where each chef each has his/her own take on the stew. But it’s a nice, hearty meal that comes together quickly, especially for a cold winter weeknight.

Budaejjigae (Korean Army Base Stew): A Non-Recipe

This can be made quickly in a pot on the stove or cooked in a deep electric skillet or wok at the table, where it continues to simmer while you eat. You can have it as a one-pot meal on its own, or serve it with kimchi and rice.

Sticking to the rustic origins of this dish, here I offer you my non-recipe. Use this as a general guideline. Adjust amounts to your liking. The ingredients to this dish are very flexible, but generally it’s the gochujang, kimchi, Spam, and Korean ramen that make it, so try not to skip those. (Korean ramen has thicker noodles than other instant noodle brands. Don’t use the seasoning packets, though, as the flavor of the stew will come from the other ingredients.) Even if you just tossed everything into a pot and boiled it, it would turn out fine. The only thing I’ll mention is that if it comes out a tad too sour for you, due to the kimchi, try adding a dash of sugar. And you’ll want to eat the noodles as soon as they’re done, to avoid them getting soggy.

BASE: gochujang, kimchi
AROMATICS: onion, garlic, scallions
MEAT: Spam (additionally, sliced hot dogs and ground beef are also common)
BROTH: enough chicken or beef broth (homemade, canned, or even water would work) to just cover all the ingredients; add water if it boils down too quickly
VEGETABLES: leafy greens like garland chrysanthemum are popular (I’ve used pea sprouts in the photo), as are various mushrooms like enoki or shiitake
NOODLES: Korean ramen, such as Shin Ramyun noodles (skip the seasoning packets, though); some people like to also add sweet potato noodles
OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: baked beans, tteok (rice cake), bacon, tofu, and American cheese

Korean Blanched Scallion Sashimi or Green Onion Bundles (Paganghoe 파강회)

Today’s Korean recipe comes from my friend Terry, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Grenada. Terry is such an awesome cook and continues to amaze me to no ends with her culinary skills, her resourcefulness, and her generous heart. She is a wonderwoman who makes everything from scratch, does it ever so efficiently, and makes everything cute and pretty to boot. She can also work wonders with a scrub and sponge. I lent her one of my old, stained pots once, and when she returned it to me, I could barely recognize it. It was shiny and looked as good as the day I bought it. Thank you, Terry!

One of the things that we can readily find on the island is scallions. Now, I’m usually not a huge fan of scallions. In fact, I didn’t really eat scallions for most of my life and would go out of my way to pick them out of my soups and dishes (my dad used to yell at me for this when I was a kid, but he has since given up and makes a scallion-less version of everything for me now :D). These days, I still order dishes without scallions when I can, but I’ve learned to appreciate the flavor and complexity that they add to certain dishes (salmon poke, green scallion pancakes).

When Terry mentioned that she’d be making blanched scallions for us, I have to admit that I was wary of the prospect. But I have complete faith in Terry’s sense of taste. And if she says it’s going to be good, I believe it. And you should too.

I can honestly say that I think I ate more scallions that day than I’ve eaten in my entire lifetime.

Here’s Terry’s recipe for blanched scallion sashimi and a special dipping sauce to go with it too!

Blanched Scallion Sashimi or Green Onion Bundles (Paganghoe 파강회)
serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish

5 bunches scallions
5 quarts water
3 Tbsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. sugar
sesame seeds

1. Soak the scallions in water and baking soda for 5 minutes to cleanse them. If you can find a tub/sink large enough to hold the entire length of your scallions, soak the entire thing. If not, just soak the heads (the dirtiest part).

2. Remove from water and trim off all scallion heads.

3. Rinse scallions.

4. Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil.

5. Submerge the scallions in the water and blanch for about a minute.

6. Remove scallions from pot and rinse under cold water.

7. Squeeze out excess water.

8. Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar in with the scallions.

9. Picking up one scallion head at a time, starting at the base, fold the scallion over onto itself at about the 2-inch mark. Continue to fold the scallion onto itself 3 or 4 more times.

10. Now pinching the folded scallion part with one hand, start wrapping the end of the scallion around the folded section. Tuck the loose end of the scallion under the wrap.

It should look about like this when done.

11. Repeat with all scallions. Arrange on a plate, and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Now for the special sauce that goes along with this yummy appetizer…


1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. red pepper paste (gochujang)
1 1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds

1. Mix all the ingredients together and stir until well combined. Serve with scallion sashimi.