Diced pork cooked in a sweet and savory sauce meets springy noodles and refreshing veggies for the ultimate weeknight meal. A classic dish in Beijing cuisine, and a favorite in Korea too!
Even though I lived in Beijing for 5 years, I think I only ate zhajiangmian once. Now that I’ve run away to the other end of the world, I think a lot about the local cuisine. I miss Peking duck, and fried filled sausage (guan chang 灌肠). I miss warm homemade soy milk and steamed meat buns and silky tofu pudding at 6 a.m. in the mornings. Consider this a tribute to Beijing, to affordable and delicious food at all hours of the day, to food that I should have eaten more of when I had the chance to.
What is ‘zha jiang mian’?
Zha jiang mian (炸酱面) literally translates to ‘fried sauce noodles’. It’s minced pork cooked in a thick bean sauce, a dish that was very common in lower-middle income families since pork was a cheaper meat than chicken or beef. Such is the beauty of evolution in cuisine. So many famous Asian recipes are of similar origin in which dishes you now see in fancy restaurants stem from years of necessity and struggle. With the rise of modern Asian restaurants, some say that Asian cuisine has become overpriced. I find pride in this progression in a ‘we made it!’ sense, who’s to say Chinese food should be cheaper than French cuisine? How do you distinguish fine dining by the value of culture when the cost of ingredients are virtually the same?
Anyway. A salty, savory and slightly sweet meat sauce smothering fresh noodles (like that alliteration?), balanced with refreshing cool cucumbers and other veggies. This was also my first time making noodles from scratch. As much as I love cooking I am TERRIFIED of all things dough-based, so I am trying to get out of my comfort zone and do more of that. I don’t even own a rolling pin so I’m not even going to consider posting a recipe for it until I’ve perfected it. Pre-made noodles are still great!
Tips to noodle success
There are many varieties to this recipe. This dish is known as jajangmyeon in Korea (자장면), with Korean black bean paste called chunjang used as the sauce. You can find it in most Korean grocery stores, it’s pretty easy to make like this. Some recipes call for broad bean paste (豆瓣酱), which is also the main base for kung pao chicken and mapo tofu.
Now, the ‘authentic’ Beijing way uses two sauces, sweet bean sauce (甜面酱 also known as sweet wheat sauce) and yellow bean sauce (黄豆酱).
Look for the Chinese characters on labels, the English translation is not often accurate. Sweet bean sauce is sometimes called hoisin sauce, however normal hoisin sauce is a lot thinner and sweeter. Yellow bean sauce also has two versions, wet and dry. I use the dry one and mix it with water. If all this sounds too complicated, you can just look for broad bean paste/chunjang and call it a day.
I use diced pork belly which is a bit more time consuming to do but provides a nice texture. You can opt for ground pork if you’re short on time. I also use rock sugar which is not as sweet as normal sugar, if you don’t have it it’s fine.
One last thing, I did not put enough water in this recipe so my sauce turned out to be very concentrated. There shouldn’t be a lot of sauce anyway, just enough to coat the noodles. However, I added even more water when eating it because my sauce was so intense lol. I adjusted the recipe to accommodate for this mistake, but it’s too concentrated just add water bit by bit!
Happy cooking <3
Beijing Zha Jiang Mian (炸酱面)
- 500 g pork belly, skin off* ~1lb, or ground pork
- 300 ml hot water (not boiling) 1 1/3 cup approx.
- 3 tbsp yellow bean paste dry
- 2 tbsp sweet bean paste**
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 1~2 medium shallots chopped
- 2 stalks green onion chopped
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1~2 tbsp Shaoxing wine optional (can sub rice wine or sake)
- 1~2 cubes rock sugar or 1 tsp white sugar
- 500 g fresh noodles** flour-based
- 1 cucumber julienned
- 1 carrot julienned
- Mix the sweet bean and yellow bean paste with the water in a bowl until the mixture is fully dissolved (Picture was before adding water).
- Diced pork belly into small cubes. If there are any chunks of fat (mine was super fatty), dice and separate those from the meat.
- Heat up a wok or large skillet to medium high and add oil. Toss in the pork fat and let it render for about 2~3 min. Once it’s crispy and golden brown, take it out (If there isn’t a lot you can skip this).
- Add green onion and shallot into the wok. Stir until fragrant.
- Add the pork into the wok. Cook til browned. Add in the pork fat, dark soy sauce and shaoxing wine.
- Add in the sauce mixture and cook on medium low and let it simmer for 15 min. The sauce will start to darken and thicken, stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn.
- Add rock sugar halfway through simmering. Taste to see if it should be adjusted (too sweet, too salty etc.). As sauce is cooking, boil noodles according to instructions (fresh noodles usually cook only with 2~3 min).
- Serve with noodles and veggies. Only a small amount is required, just enough to coat the noodles.