An appetizing arrangement on a plate is much like a composition on a canvas. Chefs craft with edible ingredients and their creations are far more fleeting than a painter’s, but they, too, strive to express aspects of their own history in their chosen form of art. For the most part, the roots of creatives whose medium is food come through in the dishes they create.
“It’s the taste of my hometown!” exclaimed Crescent Dai, a weather anchor at New Tang Dynasty Television, while consuming the creation I recently concocted for her—Chinese Noodles in Soybean Sauce.
Crescent is from Northeastern China, and one of the dishes her mother used to cook for her was Chinese Noodles in Soybean Sauce. Since she hasn’t been back to China in a long time, she now misses this dish dearly. Luckily, I know the dish by heart because it’s also a dish my mother cooks all the time.
Chinese Noodles in Soybean Sauce, “zha jiang mian” in Chinese, or “jajangmyeon” in Korean, originated in Shandong Province, China. When the Joseon opened the port of Incheon, many Chinese immigrated from the Shandong to Incheon. There they opened Chinese restaurants, so zha jiang mian took root in Korea, and evolved into jajangmyeon to suit the Korean palate.
There are many variations of zha jiang mian. In Beijing, yellow soybean paste is used. In Tianjin, sweet soybean paste is used. And in Korea, chunjang—roasted dark soybean paste—is used. Since my family is from the Beijing area, we use yellow soybean paste for zha jiang mian.
One of the keys to cooking the noodles right is to “shock” them by dousing the freshly cooked noodles with cold water, which stills the micro-simmering inside the noodles, keeping them from becoming mushy and giving an al dente, springy quality. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the noodles so they don’t stick together while serving or eating.
For some of us—Crescent among them—the finished dish might conjure up a taste of home. For others, it may just be an exotic getaway. Either way, it’s a great recipe to try this summer. Enjoy!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
20 ounces of Chinese styled fresh wheat noodles
2 ounces chicken breast, chopped
4 tablespoons oil
4 tablespoons “doenjang” yellow soybean paste
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
1 cucumber, sliced julienne
2 tablespoons scallions, chopped
In a bowl, add the soybean sauce, water, and dark soy sauce. Mix well. Set aside.
In a pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil, then add the chopped chicken and cook over medium high heat until well done. Then add the soybean sauce mixture, and stir fry until the aroma comes out. Boil water in a medium saucepan, and add 1 tablespoon of oil to the water to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Then cook the noodles until al dente. Shock the noodles by dousing with cold water. Pour the last 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over the noodles and then mix well. Again, this prevents the noodles from sticking together.
Serve the noodles in a bowl, and top with soybean sauce, cucumber, and scallions.