Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Zhajiangmian with Snow Peas
Zhajiangmian ("fried sauce noodles") is one of my all-time favorite comfort dishes: there is something about noodles with a rich earthy pork and bean paste sauce that makes me tremendously happy. I first encountered it twenty or so years ago in a little hole in the wall Chinese restaurant where I ordered (it and lots of other delicious and unusual dishes) blindly from the Chinese-language only menu by pointing. I raised some eyebrows playing palette roulette this way, but I got to try a lot of great dishes and I finally trained the staff so that they would suggest dishes that I should try. It took a long time for them to figure out that they weren't going to scare me by serving pig's ears or dried jellyfish. Of all the dishes that I tried though, fried sauce noodles was one of my favorites and one of those that I have learned to make. And beyond making it, I now feel comfortable in making my own versions.

It is one of those dishes that varies each time I make it depending on what I have on hand in the refrigerator and pantry. The theme is thick wheat noodles and a sauce of bean paste and ground pork. The variations are endless.

Yesterday's variation involved two kinds of bean paste, regular Korean soy bean paste (doenjang) and spicy Korean fava bean and chile paste (dobanjang), along with soy sauce, Chinkiang black vinegar, and dark sesame oil. Garnishes always vary, but I almost always insist on pickled mustard stems (zha cai), five spice-pressed tofu, and a green vegetable, in this case, some beautiful fall snow peas. The sauce was flavored with copious amounts of both ginger and garlic and I tossed raw green onions and cilantro leaves into the noodles while tossing them with the sauce. The noodles themselves: udon.

I no longer worry about the cultural mash-up that is my zhajiangmian, for this is a dish that has been adopted all over Japan, Korea, and China and is made with whatever suitable local ingredients are available. The best noodles I can get happen to be udon and the best bean pastes I can get happen to be Korean. And who cares? The results are spectacular!

Cultural Mash-Up: Japanese, Chinese, and Korean

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