I’m fascinated by foods that have been transplanted from one country to another and in the process become their own unique dish. Some dishes like Chop Suey get totally lost in the translation, while others, like Tacos Al Pastor, and Japanese Curry take on a different, though no less tasty life of their own.
This dish originated in northern China as a dish called Zhajiang mian. In its native form, it’s a fried mixture of fried scallions, garlic, ground pork, and black bean paste that’s all served over a bed of thick wheat noodles. The dish migrated to Korea with Chinese immigrants and there it began to change. The Korean-Chinese dish is called Ja Jang Myeon and is a popular staple in Chinese restaurants there. As it evolved, it took in more veggies like onion and zucchini, and got a black bean “gravy” thickened with cornstarch.
I’ve had both versions and my recipe below takes it in a new direction. It’s lighter than both the original and Korean versions and has a full compliment of veggies. The sauce is less cloying and strikes a pleasant balance between sweet and savoury, enrobing the veggies and noodles like a satiny black cloak. I don’t like wimpy noodles and this dish is no exception. I’ve found that dried linguine cooked al dente makes the perfect foil for the sauce, putting up a good fight from the beginning until the very last noodle is slurped up.
vegetables & meat
- For the sauce, add all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and stir to combine. If you have clumps of cornstarch, just let it sit for a few minutes and when you stir it again, it should all combine nicely.
- Boil a pot of water for the noodles. You'll need about 6 minutes to cook the meat and veggies so depending on how long the noodles you got will take to cook, plan accordingly.
- Heat a pan on high heat until hot. Add the oil, swirl, then add the pork. Fry until the pork is just cooked then transfer to plate. There should be enough oil left in the pan for the veggies, but if not, add some oil then add the onions, bell pepper and garlic, frying until fragrant and cooked.
- Add the bok choy (if you're using regular cabbage, you'll need to add it sooner), return the pork to the pan along with any juices then stir the sauce mixture one last time and add to the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil and it should thicken.
- To serve, just put some noodles in the bottom of a bowl and cover with a generous helping of sauce and veggies.