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[Opinion] Not Just Noodles With Bean Sauce

Posted October. 03, 2005 03:15,   


While nowadays, anyone can eat Jajangmyeon (noodles with bean sauce) whenever they want, Jajangmyeon was not so widely available in the past. It was a special dish that we ate only on special days such as elementary school entrance ceremonies, graduation ceremonies or school field days.

When my father or uncle used to ask me what I wanted to eat, my answer was usually Jajangmyeon, and I always felt happy heading toward “Junghwa-ru,” the Chinese restaurant in the township that served it. I still remember that I used to smack my lips while waiting for Jajangmyeon and eating Danmuji and onion that were served before Jajangmyeon with Chunjang, which we dipped onion into.

“Jajangmyeon” is the correct spelling of this Chinese dish. However, we’re more familiar with “Jjajangmyeon.” When Ahn Do-hyun, a poet, published a collection of his nursery tales, he said, “In no matter what writings, I would not spell Jjajangmyeon as Jajangmyeon. There is Jjajangmyeon in Chinese restaurants, and Jjajangmyeon is Jjajangmyeon. That’s it.”

The lines of a song, sung by Chun Brothers, “Junghwa Banjeom,” are also interesting. “Junghwa Banjeom in Ahyeon-dong/ Its Jjangbbong is very delicious/ Jjajangmyeon is more delicious,” the lines go. Indeed, Jjajangmyeon rhymes better with Jjangbbong and is more interesting to pronounce than Jajangmyeon. Just like we prefer to pronounce “Soju” as “Ssoju.”

While there are various rumors about the origin of Jajangmyeon, it would not be inaccurate to say that Jajangmyeon is a Chinese food that was localized in Korea. In 1883, when the port of Incheon opened, workers from the Shantung area of China poured into Joseon. They ate noodles mixed with Chungjang as a midnight snack as they did in their homeland. Later on, a Chinatown formed in Incheon, and Hwagyos there (Hwagyo refers to Chinese residing in Korea) developed and came up with a new recipe which was more palatable to Koreans: vegetable and meat were added to Chungjang and the mix was roasted.

It is said that currently there are about 25,000 Chinese restaurants in Korea, and more than seven million bowls of Jajangmyeon sold there on a daily average. Assuming that a bowl of Jajangmyeon costs 3,000 won, the total amount of bowls of Jajangmyeon sold on a day is 21 billion won.

One hundred years have passed since Jajangmyeon was “reborn” in Incheon. To celebrate Jajangmyeon’s centennial, the Incheon Metropolitan City will hold a Jajangmyeon festival for three days starting October 7 in the Chinatown in the region. Although there have been lots of controversies going on over the safety of Chinese foods ranging from fish to vegetable, Jajangmyeon still is a special dish to us. Hurrah for Korean Jajangmyeon!

Song Young-eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com