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Unique history behind beloved black noodles

Posted December. 15, 2018 08:27,   

Updated December. 15, 2018 08:27


One of the most beloved food with a unique history is none other than jjajangmyeon, black bean noodles. The food originated in China, but is enjoyed more in its neighboring country, South Korea, with six to seven million dishes sold every day according to related data. Yet, few people are aware of the noodles’ history and origin.

Let us take a look at its name, first. As a local dish in Beijing and Shandong, jjajangmyeon is written and pronounced as “jakjangmyeon” in Chinese characters. “Jak” refers to one of the stir-frying techniques used in Chinese cuisine, and “jang” means sweet black soybean paste. The name, therefore, indicates the food you put stir-fried soybean paste on top of noodles and mix them with fresh vegetables.

What is important is the type of noodles (myeon). For jjajangmyeon, “rapmyeon” is used, which is made through kneading, not cutting with a knife or compressing with a machine. The process of making “rapmyeon” is often seen in Chinese restaurants. The word “rapmyeon” is pronounced as “ramien” in Chinese, but as “ramen” in Japanese. The author argues that this is why jjajangmyeon is a type of ramen in a sense.

Following an unexpected development from jjajangmyeon to ramen, the book introduces the history and culture behind various noodle dishes enjoyed in East Asia. A professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Yonsei University, who wrote the book, is called a “jjajangmyeon expert” as he boasts a comprehensive knowledge of food.

The book stresses “the power of food.” In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed Lien Chan, the honorary chairman of the Kuomintang of Taiwan, with “Biangbiang noodles,” a traditional dish of Shanxi province, considering that the fathers of the two were both from the province. Since then, Biangbiang noodles have gained popularity, contributing to a thaw in relations between mainland China and Taiwan. The national craze for Pyongyang cold noodles following this year’s inter-Korean summit is another example that shows the power of food, the author said.

Won-Mo Yu onemore@donga.com