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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
What is Zha Jiang Mian

Zha Jiang Mian means Fried Sauce Noodles. While that could mean most anything it is usually attached to a noodle dish from Northern China of meat cooked with a bean sauce (which one can vary some) that became popular and has variations across China and into Japan and Korea.

Most versions congregate around fermented soybean sauce (Yellow Soybean Sauce is more traditional) and sweet bean sauce, usually close to a 2::1 ratio. Sweet bean sauce in this case means tianmianjiang and is made from flour, not beans. There will be some more discussion of this in the ingredients section. Generally some aromatics are added and fresh vegetable garnishes.

But consider.

Zhá Jiàng Miàn (Savory Noodle Sauce) - Chinese Foody says
Every Chinese family has its own way to prepare it, but they all use some kind of soybean paste as the base of the sauce. In traditional Beijing cuisine, the yellow paste (yellow soybean paste) is used while in different parts of China use other soybean pastes such as sweet bean paste, Hoisin sauce or even hot bean paste. It does not matter which sauce is used...
Barbara Tropp describes it in passing in setting up Hunan Noodles with Spicy Meat Sauce
Barbara Tropp, The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, 1982

Noodles slatherd with hearty sacues concocted from minced pork, bean pastes and sometimes hoisin sauce are common in north China.
Is she talking about just one such kind of noodle or a broad swath of noodle dishes?
Mike Chen used doubanjiang in his video recipe which is not common. I think it can work.

It's origin is lost to history, but generally agreed to be from the Shandong region. Its rise to popularity is said to stem from the move of the royal court (Quing Dynasty period) after their loss to the Eight Nation Alliance. The Empress Cixi was fond of the dish and brought a chef to cook it in their new home.

Zha Jiang Mian These two sources seem to quote each other in a sort of plagiaristic way, Maybe they both used the same printed source or something. I'll be referring to the sonofchina link again.

As the dish moved through China due to its simplicity and popularity, it picked up some regional variations, like using fermented bean sauce. If you read up on this a common food metaphor is to compare it to spaghetti bolognese or macaroni and cheese. The spaghetti seems to be the popular comparison with the lumpy meaty sauce of concentrated glutamates. tomatoes for spaghetti, fermented beans for zha jiang.

sonofchina.com offers a regional variation table, as does the wikipedia entry on the topic.
I want to point out three regional variants. The first two illustrate the most common types, the third how it can get confusing.

Shandong, the originator uses just the tianmianjiang.

Beijing combines the bean sauce with the tianmianjiang

Sichuan may have a fork of the dish in two different directions. One using la doubanjiang for the bean sauce and another called zajiangmian that is more commonly only with tianmianjiang and some added spices. The food history is not clear on the actual source of these variations if they are actually variations. I've seen the zajiangmian referred to as a soup noodle, but when I see actual recipes, it doesn't seem to be. So I'm confused a bit on what is going on in Sichuan. I think the Shandong using only tianmianjiang and most of the zajiang recipes I saw also only using tianminajiang makes me think they could be related. But that's not actual evidence, just a seeming correlation. Carolyn Phillips offers a different take on what zajiangmian might mean in her vegetarian eggplant version shown later.

And it's popularity took it to Japan as jajamen and Korea as jajangmeon but a little more about those variants at the end.

So it's not just one specific thing, but usually simple and bold in flavor.
 

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Key ingredients

As someone who doesn't speak or read Chinese, it's easy to be confused about what to use in zha jiang mian.

There are many types of bean sauces and pastes. And then the tianmianjiang gets translated as sweet bean sauce when it isn't beans at all.

This can not be an exhaustive discussion of bean sauces but I'll try and help with the confusion within the limits of own ignorance and knowledge.

Most recipes call for yellow soybean sauce --huangdoujiang (Chinese Cooking Demystified rejects this but more on that later) It's not too hard to find jars labeled this way in the asian grocer. Koon Chun Ground Bean Sauce is also easy to find and falls in this class. I often use Lee Kum Kee Soybean Sauce Lee Kum Kee Soy Bean Sauce 28 oz

Chinese Sauces // The Complete Guide to 27 Chinese Condiments is helpful here. They note it is also often called brown bean sauce. I find this especially the case after your jar has been opened, it oxidizes darker quickly.

Is this the same as broadbean sauce. I don't think so but I'm not positive on that. I think that is regular non-spicy doubanjiang--unless they're talking sichuan food, then use spicy. BUt there are sample recipes using doubanjiang as well.

So on to tianmianjiang, sweet bean sauce. There are a couple of different and wrong possibilities if you're only looking at English translations. Fortunately most are now labeled with sweet flour sauce in English and this usage is more common in contemporary cookbooks. A lot of AI type translations focus on the mian and call it sweet noodle sauce, but that's usually more in youtube videos.

Sweet Bean Sauce could mean sweetened red bean paste as used in some buns and other things. Note the use of sweetENED rather than just sweet. Watch for that difference. It seems this is usually canned, tianmian is usually in a jar or plastic tub.

In Cantonese, their doubanjiang is called sweet bean sauce and is different from doubanjiang in the rest of the nation's usage. Woksoflife has this usage so pay attention in their recipes. They consider cantonese sweet bean sauce as interchangeable with tianmianjiang but I've never used the cantonese stuff to have an opinion on it.
Sweet Bean Paste (豆瓣酱 - Dou Ban Jiang) Also Chinese Sauces // The Complete Guide to 27 Chinese Condiments discusses the Cantonese usage.

On youtube, Chinese Cooking Demystified uses something else. As I generally defer to their research and experience, i want to point out their choice of ingredient and discuss it briefly.

They use ganhuangjiang having gan prefixed to the yellow bean sauce. Wikipedia explains under their entry for yellow soybean paste that this variety is drier and a more recent development. The dryness simplifies storage and transport, and you rehydrate it in use. So I guess it's not strictly different, but seems a bit odd to focus on it over regular yellow soybean paste.
 

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Recipes
I'll put the recipes in chronological order to show the evolution of the dish in English sources and try to glean some commonalities that help us understand the core of the dish.

For cookbook content, I'm scannign the text wtih my phone using Text Fairy to do the OCR. I tried to correct errors in the scan but some errors may persist. If something looks odd to you let me know and I'll verify it if I can.

Hsiang Ju Lin, Chinese Gastronomy, 1969 (my edition is from 1977)
I think this recipe needs some context from the book. He's writing about regional cuisine, specifically Peking(before the pinyin was officially switched to Beijing) He's moved from the street vendors to the low-grade restaurants.


The flavour of Peking was in the cheap restaurants, where tiers of paotse, buns stuffed with pork and porkfat, cooked in a cloud of steam. How good to comin from the freequing cold anwarm oneself, the hot bun warming the hands even before one bit into it. Or to look into a big bowl of steaming noodles, stir itu p with sauce, hunch over it, an dgulp it down in big mouthfuls. The coarse food was full of robust flavour, uncomplicated by niceities. Thick wehatcakes (laoping) wer werapped about raw spring onions and raw garlic, eaten just like that. Do not confuse withthe translucent crepes of Southern China discuss alter. Soutehrners complain that the Norther laoping are too thick, to ocoarse. But they must be like that, or they would not taste right. Li Liweng said: "Southerners cook noodles in a soup containign salt, vinegar, sauces an other ingredients. The soup is delicious, buth the noodles are tasteless. But this is what they lik. They just as well be drinking soup."

Compare the following recipe with the complication of Carp and Noodles discussed in the section on Chekiang-Kiangsu.

Minced Pork Sauce (for Noodles)
1 lb. fresh noodles or 3/4 lb dry noodles
1/2 lb pork
2 tablespoons oil
1 spring onion chopped
2 tablespoons wine
4 tablespoons brown bean sauce (toupan chiang)
1 level teaspoon sugar
1/4 pint water
raw slivered garlic, raw sliced cucmbers, or raw slivered spring onions

Prepare the noodles separately and keep thm hot. Chop ordice the pork fvery finely, and saute with oil, chopped sprin onion, wine and brown bean sauce until the liquid evaporates and the oil separates out. Add sugar and water and saute again until the ater evaporates and the oil separates.

Serve the noodles and sauce separately with a separate dish of raw sliverered garlic, raw sliced cucumbers or raw srping onions.

I think this is a great starting point to discussing zha jiang mian. It's a boldly flavored dish, sweetly accented, lacking subtlety but comforting, delicious even if the noodles don't have any flavor of their own, only what coats them from the sauce. And textural contrast in the garnish.

The toupan chiang seems an odd choice, especially with the light sugar accent. Is yellow bean sauce the same as brown bean sauce? says "s. Rather confusingly, yellow bean sauce is sometimes called brown bean sauce, but it refers to the same ingredient." It's just calling it toupan rather than huang? I would consider these different sauces. Shortly, we'll see another brown bean sauce version that is not toupan.


Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee, The Chinese Cookbook, 1972

The following is a famous Peking dish, traditional for birthday celebrations. It is a minced pork and bean sauce dish with noodles as its base. The sauce itself is somehwat spicy and bit on the salty side, which admirabley complements the noodles. Note that it is made and served with what may seem to some Western minds as a large amount of oil, ub the oil may be reduced according to conscience. The sauce, incidentally, keeps well in the refrigerator up to two weeks.


TSA CHIANG MIEN (Noodles with Minced Pork and Bean Sauce)

1 pound ground pork

1/2 cup bean sauce *

3/4 cup peanut, vegetable, or corn oil

3-4 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon monosodium glutamate

2 scallions, green part included, finely chopped

1 pound fresh Chinese noodles (lo mein) * or one 8-ounce box thin egg noodles



* Available in Chinese markets and by mail order. For more information see Chapter XI

1. Measure out the pork and bean sauce in separate bowls and have ready.

2. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet, add the pork, and cook about 3 minutes, stirring to separate the pieces. Add the bean sauce and cook, stirring, over high heat about 2 minutes.

3. Add the sugar and cook, stirring, over high heat until the oil loses its cloudy look and becomes clear, about 3 minutes or longer. Add the monosodium glutamate and scallions and stir to blend. Spoon out, oil and all, into a serving dish and keep warm. Or, if desired, pour off as much of the oil as you wish.

4. Prepare the noodles. If Chinese noodles are used, bring a large quantity of water—at least 2 quarts—to a boil. Add the noodles and cook 3 1/2 to 5 minutes. Or cook the thin egg noodles according to package directions. In either case, drain and put the noodles into a large serving bowl.

5. At the table, serve the noodles in individual bowls and pass the bow! of pork and bean sauce. Each individual tops his noodles with a spoonful or two of the sauce and oil to taste, and mixes it thoroughly with chopsticks.

YIELD: 4 to 8 servings
This seems like a lot of bean sauce compared to what I usually see anymore, at least until Mike Chen in 2020. Also a fair amount of sugar, but without the tianmianjiang that makes some sense. The oddest thing to me is the big range in serving sizes.

No specific kind of bean sauce is called out so I consider this evidence for the argument that it doesn't have to be only yellow bean sauce.


Calvin Lee, The Gourmet Chinese Regional Cookbook, 1976

Brown Bean Sauce Noodles (Cha Chiang Mein)
This robust noodle dish has no pretensions whatsoever; it is inexpensive to make, quite filling, and very tasty indeed. This makes a satisfying single dish meal or late night supper.

1 pound Chinese egg noodles
1/4 cup brown bean sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 chopped scallions
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 pound ground pork
Garnishes
1/2 cucumber
10 radishes
4 scallions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Preparation
Boil the noodles for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. They should be drained in a colander under running water when they reach the al dente stage. Place in a serving bowl

Shred each of the garnishes and place each in its own bowl. Mash the brown bean sauce with the handle of a cleaver or the back of a spoon. To the brown bean sauce add the hoisin sauce, chopped scallions, chicken stock, sugar, and cayenne. Set aside.

Cooking
Heat a wok or skillet over high heat until a drop of water immediately sizzles into steam. Add the oil, salt, and garlic. When the odor of the garlic has become pungent, add the pork and stir fry for 1 minute or until the pork has become gray.

Add the brown bean sauce and chicken stock mixture. Blend well with the pork. Cover and lower heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes more. Remove to a separate serving dish.

To serve, let each guest help himself to some noodles and then to some sauce. If he or she prefers a salty dish, then a lot of sauce should be taken. The proportion of sauce to the bland noodles determines the degree of saltiness. Your guests may then garnish their noodles with as few or as many of the garnishes as you have provided.

Yield: 4-6 servings.
Not much wrong with this one. I like the heavier vegie garnish and extra aromatics in the sauce.

Irene Kuo, The Key to Chinese Cooking, 1977

This is frequently seen as a significant Chinese cookbook, especially given the time of publication. I think it holds up well generally, though there are some translation preferences and pinyin changes since then.

I can't be sure that is supposed to be zha jiang mian. But it looks more like it than not I think, particularly where described as a one-dish northern meal and with the heavier vegie garnish. She never mentions or uses tianmianjiang in the book.
NOODLES WITH BEAN-PASTE MEAT SAUCE

Served with an array of crisp raw vegetables, this is a typical one-dish northern meal. Although it involves the preparation of three separate components, the noodles, ganishes and meat sauce, each can be done in advance,

serves 6-8 generously.


1 pound noodles, boiled (page 432)

Garnish:

1 large firm, slender cucumber
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 1/2 cups shredded celery
4 large cloves garlic, minced or mashed
1 teaspoon sesame oil


1 pound ground pork
4 tablespoons oil
1 large whole scallion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dry sherry

SAUCE:

5 tablespoons bean paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sesame oil


Noodles

Cook fresh noodles or spaghetti or linguine according to the instructions. Rinse, drain, and set aside. When ready to serve, plunge them into a pot of boiling water to boil briefly till hot. Drain them well.

Garnishes

Cut off the ends and peel the cucumber; halve and deseed it. Cut the halves diagonally into 1 1/2-inch-long slices; then shred them thin.

Rinse and drain the bean sprouts. Parboil them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain into a colander and spray with cold water. Drain well.

Separate the lettuce leaves; rinse and shake dry. Cut the larger leaves in half lengthwise; then shred them crosswise thin. Cut the tender core diagonally into thin slices and then shred these.

Wash, scrape, then cut the celery stalks diagonally into thin slices; shred the slices thin. Rinse in cold water and drain well.

Crush and peel the garlic; then either mince it or mash it in a garlic press. Mix with the sesame oil in a small dish.

Put each vegetable in a separate serving dish. If doing this step in advance, cover the dishes and refrigerate. Bring out just before serving.

Meat sauce

March-chop the pork a few times to loosen its formation. Place it with the with the finely chopped scallions on your working platter. Combine bean paste with the sugar and water and stir well.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot; add the 4 tablespoons oil, swirl, and heat for 30 seconds. Turn heat to mete meat add the meat, stirring briskly in poking and pressing motions until meat Separates. Scatter in the scallions and stir a few times: then add the sherry and stir rapidly to mingle. Give the sauce ingredients a big stir, pour over the meat, and stir to even out the contents.

Turn heat low to maintain a gentle simmering, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened, stirring now and then. At this point add a little sugar if sauce needs it—it should be on the salty side with a subtle sweet aftertaste.

Turn the heat high, add the sesame oil, and give a few fast folds before pouring into a serving dish. The sauce may be made ahead of time, covered, and chilled. Reheat over very low heat just before serving.

Serving

Place the vegetable garnishes in a circle in the center of the table with the hot meat sauce in the middle. Pile the hot noodles on a platter or in a deep bowl. Serve the noodles to each person and let him or her spoon on a little sauce and a sprinkling of vegetable garnishes. The mixture should be tossed well before being eaten.
The bean sauce is still a bit high, but more in line with ratios I tend to like best. Sweetness might be a bit light for my taste. The fresh vegetables are essential to cleansing the palate between the strong noodle and sauce bites and really make the dish work to my taste. I like the variety and volumes of vegetables we don't see again until Mandy Fu's version in 2017.


Kenneth Lo, Chinese Regional Cooking, 1979

--there are multiple versions and titles of this out there, Chinese Provincial Cooking and so on. It's really quite different from other cookbooks focusing on food in hotels and restaurants in China. Seems written for the UK audience.

Quick-Fried Diced Pork Cubes in Peking Soya Paste

450 g (1 [b) leg of pork

22 ml (1 1 /2 tablespoons) cornflour
90-105 ml (6-7 tablespoons) vegetable oil

Sauce
15 ml (1 tablespoon) soya (yellow bean) paste
7 ml (1/2 tablespoon hoisin sauce (optional)
5 ml (1 teaspoon sugar
22 ml (1 1/2 tablespons) ginger water (boil 3 sliced root ginger in 45 ml (3 tablespoons) water until the water is reduced to half, discard ginger)


Dice the pork into small cubes. Sprinkle and rub them with cornflour.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the pork cubes and spread them over the pan in a single layer. Stir-fry them over a high heat for 1 1/2 minutes.

Remove and drain the pork and pour away the oil. Add all the sauce ingredients to the pan. Reduce the heat to low. Stir the ingredients together for about 30 seconds until they constitute a shiny, brownish paste. Return the once-fried pork cubes to the pan. Stir and mix them with the thick sauce in the pan, for about 45 seconds. Transfer them to a well-heated dish, and serve immediately. Serves 6-8.

This is a popular and favourite Pekingese dish which, like its chicken counterpart (see page 34) is served in most Pekingese eating establishments. A variation is Quick-fried Three Delicious, in which half the pork is replaced by diced cubes of pig's kidney and liver. The cooking times are exactly the same as above but quite often a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic are fried in the remianing oil just before the sauce ingredients are added.
I'm pretty sure we're talking zha jiang mian here with the sugar and hoisin use and the Peking soy paste name. The lack of vegie garnish is perhaps a reason to think its not. the ginger water technique is interesting, and that the instructions are jammed in the ingredients list. I also like seeing the offal variation. That's not something you see in writing for western audiences much even today.

I also think the 2::1 bean sauce sweet sauce ratio is right where I like it, though I enjoy more of each. As we'll see in his 1985 version, he's light on the bean sauce in his preferences.
 

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Kenneth Lo, New Chinese Cooking School, 1985

PEKING JA CHIANG MEIN NOODLES

1 medium onion
2 slices fresh ginger root
2 garlic cloves
4 green onions
6-inch section cucumber
1 lb wheat flour noodles (like spaghetti)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup ground pork
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon yellow bean _ pase
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup good stock (see page 56)
1 tablespoon cornstarch blended with 3 tablespoons water

Cooking time about 15 Minutes
Serves: 4-6
Cooking methods:
simmer and stir-fry, p.42
Fairly easy to Prepare
Serve alone or as an accompaniment

PREPARATION

Coarsely chop onion, ginger and garlic. Cut green onions into 2 1/2-inch sections (dividing larger stalks in half or quarters). Cut cucumber into shreds. Place noodles in saucepan of boiling water and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Drain. Rinse noodles under running cold water to keep separate.

COOKING
Heat oil in wok or large skillet. When hot, stir-fry onion and ginger for 1 minute. Add garlic and pork and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add salt, yellow bean paste and soy sauce. Stir and cook for 3 minutes. Mix in stock and continue to cook for further 3 minutes. Pour in blended cornstarch, stirring until thickened.

SERVING
Reheat noodles by dipping them in boiling water for 15 seconds, then drain thoroughly. Arrange them on large heated serving dish. Pour sauce into center of noodles. Arrange shredded cucumber and green onion sections on either side of sauce.
I'm glad to see that aromatic base is developing in the dish. I miss it in Claiborne's version. This is missing and clear sweetness though. Seems a bit odd to me that way.


Mai Leung, New Classic Chinese Cookbook, 1998, but could be as early as 1976 as it contains content from the earlier editions. It think the title at least was updated to the later useage of Beijing and Sichuan.

NOODLES IN MEAT SAUCE, BEIJING STYLE

serves 4 as a meal

PREPARATION OF INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 cup chopped scallions, including some green part

1 pound pork or beef: grind coarsely in a meat grinder or food processor

SAUCE MIXTURE (Mix in a bowl)

4 tablespoons Sichuan sweet bean sauce or ground bean sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry Sherry
1/2 cup canned clear chicken broth
1 tablespoon sesame oil


4 quarts water

2 teaspoon salt

10 to 12 ounces fresh noodles

DIRECTIONS FOR COOKING

1. Heat wok over high heat. Swirl in oil. When oil is hot, drop in garlic and half the scallions. When garlic turns golden, add ground pork or beef. Stir-fry until Pork or beef loses its pink. Stir in sauce mixture, stir and cook for about 2 Minutes. Add the broth. Mix well. Simmer over low heat for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Add sesame oil and mix well. Cover to keep hot or reheat just before serving.

2. Bring 4 quarts of water to rapid boil. Add the salt and then the noodles, stir immediately: they are done in less than 30 seconds, before the water returns to a boil. It is better to undercook than to overcook them. ’

3. Quickly pour noodles into a colander. Shake the colander to drain OFF the water. Add 1 tablespoon oil to toss and coat noodles evenly. Put on a Serving platter and top with the meat sauce and the remaining scallions. Serve hot at once.
Is it zjajiangmian? I think so give the emphasis on Beijing style. I'm not sure what exactly she means by Sichuan sweet bean sauce. She describes it in the ingredient section:

"Labeled as sweet bean paste sometimes. Not sweet, but salty and pungent; tasted very much like ground bean sauce (which can be used as a substitute) Used in many Sichuan dishes. Available in 6 oz cans or jars."

Maybe the Szechuan brand sweet bean sauce but the brand name got updated by accident?

Anyway, it bears many similarities with Claiborne's version.

There's a gap here. i looked at recipes from some other books, but found them problematic. There's one in Eileen Yin Fei Lo's The Chinese Kitchen labeled Jah Jeung Mien with horse bean sauce but seemed pretty divergent building a more common stir fry kind of sauce. It can also be hard to recognize the dish in an index as there isn't consistent naming or even spelling.

Ken Hom, Classic Chinese R3cipes, 2011
Bean Sauce Noodles
Zha Jiang Mian

SERVES: 4

2.25 litres (4 pints) water
2 teaspoons salt
250 g (8 oz) fresh or dried egg noodles
1½ tablespoons groundnut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions, white part only
2 teaspoons peeled and finely chopped fresh root ginger
375 g (12 oz) minced pork
2 teaspoons ground yellow bean sauce
1 tablespoon chilli bean sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
150 ml (¼ pint) chicken stock
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil, plus extra for tossing with the noodles (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
chopped spring onions, to garnish
This northern Chinese dish is perhaps best described as the equivalent of Western pasta with meat sauce. With added vegetables, it makes a very satisfying light meal or snack.

Put the water and salt into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the noodles. If you are using fresh noodles, boil them for 1½ minutes; if using dried noodles, boil them for 3 minutes. Separate the noodles, using chopsticks, while they are boiling. Put them in a colander under cold running water and leave until they are cold, to stop them from overcooking. Leave the noodles to drain in the colander, turning them several times so that all the water can drain off them. If you are not using them immediately, toss them with sesame oil before setting aside.
Heat a wok until it is hot, then add the groundnut or vegetable oil. When the oil is hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic, spring onions and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Then add the pork, stir well to break up all the pieces and continue to stir-fry for 2 minutes or until it loses its pink colour. Add the bean sauces, soy sauces, rice wine or sherry, stock, sugar and pepper to taste and continue to cook for 30 seconds, mixing well.
Return the noodles to the wok and cook over a high heat for 2 minutes, mixing well. Stir in the sesame oil and mix again. Turn onto a platter, garnish with chopped spring onions and serve at once.
Another more mild version. Bit surprised for Hom. He usually seems more bold in his flavor choices.

Fuchsia Dunlop, Every Grain of Rice, 2012
ZHAJIANG NOODLES
ZHA JIANG MIAN 炸醬麵

“Fried sauce noodles,” or zha jiang mian, is a Beijing speciality that is now popular all over the country. The classic version uses hand-pulled noodles, a rich sauce of ground pork cooked with sweet fermented wheat paste and a selection of fresh, crisp vegetables, all mixed together at the table. It’s a whole meal in one bowl and absolutely delicious. This version of the recipe was taught to me by Jia Suxiang, in her kitchen in Beijing.

The meat sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen until you need it.

This recipe serves two people.

2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
2 star anise
4¼ oz (125g) finely chopped or coarsely ground belly pork
2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
5 tbsp sweet fermented sauce
Salt, to taste
7 oz (200g) dried Chinese wheat flour noodles, or 11 oz (300g) fresh noodles
To serve, any or all of the following

Small section of cucumber
1 celery stick
1 small carrot
Some Chinese cabbage
1 small piece of purple-hearted Chinese radish (xin li mei)
Good handful of beansprouts
Handful of cooked green soy beans or peas
A few slices of red chilli (optional)
Add the oil to a seasoned wok over a high flame and swirl it around. Immediately add the Sichuan pepper and star anise and stir-fry for a few moments until they smell delicious. Then remove the spices with a slotted spoon, leaving the fragrant oil in the wok.

Add the pork and stir-fry until it has become pale, pressing the meat with the back of your ladle or wok scoop to help separate it out into little morsels. Then add the ginger and stir-fry until you can smell it. Add the Shaoxing wine, stir once or twice, then add the sweet fermented sauce. Stir-fry for a few moments more until it smells rich and delicious, then cover the pork generously with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer over a low heat for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is dark and luxuriantly thick. Season with a scattering of salt (the sauce should be intensely-flavored and seem on its own a little over-salted, because it will be used to flavor the bland noodles).

When you wish to eat, bring a pan of water to a boil. Cut whichever you are using of the cucumber, celery, carrot, cabbage and radish into fine slivers. Blanch the beansprouts and all the vegetables except for the cucumber in the boiling water; they should remain a bit crisp. (It is best to blanch each vegetable separately, using a slotted spoon to remove them from the water.) Refresh the blanched vegetables immediately under a cold tap and drain well. Reheat the pork sauce.

Cook the noodles, rinse briefly under the tap, shake dry, then divide between two serving bowls.

Add some of each of your vegetables to the bowls. Top with the pork sauce. Stir everything together with chopsticks before eating, scattering with chilli slices, if you like.
The star anise seems way out of place, reflecting how you can add your personal preferences to the dish.

Carolyn Phillips, All Under Heaven, 2016

Zhajiang Noodles
Zhájiàng miàn 炸醬麵

THE NORTHEAST AND TAIWAN’S MILITARY FAMILIES · SERVES 2 OR 3 AS A MAIN DISH

Popular throughout most of northeast China, this dish has been compared to pasta Bolognese: a rich meat sauce balanced on top of chewy strands of dough. But that’s where the similarities end. Zhajiang mian means “deep-fried sauce noodles,” which has always confused me, because the sauce for this dish is panfried. It wasn’t until very recently that I came upon an explanation. You see, most folks think of this dish as being from Beijing, but after some research, I learned that it probably originated in the Northeast, where it is also known as zájiàng miàn 雜醬麵, or “mixed sauce noodles.” Zha and za sound very much alike, and my personal theory is that these two were mixed up at some point.

The idea for adding eggplant came from the wonderful Chinese writer Liang Shih-chiu (who is quoted at the beginning of this chapter). In an essay called “Noodles” (Miàntiáo 麵條), he wrote, “Our family once was taught by a lofty personage to add cubed eggplant when the sauce was almost done…and the secret lay in doing one’s best to make the sauce on the noodles not too salty.”

I’ve enjoyed endless variations on this dish, but this recipe is the best I have ever tasted. However, as with great simple foods elsewhere, perfection demands a couple of very important requirements.

First, the pasta should be handmade and fresh. No dried noodles here, please. In fact, you should use pulled noodles if at all possible—although rolled noodles are also good (see this page). Second, make the pasta flat and wide, if you can, because you’ll need really big noodles to temper the powerfully seasoned sauce. Third, don’t drown the noodles with sauce. You want a good balance of sauce to pasta so that your tongue is initially hit with the salty, meaty taste of the zhajiang, and then soothed by the sweet noodles. The cucumber garnish is cleansing and slightly tannic, which provides even more contrast. Some people like to sprinkle green onions on top, and I am not opposed to a few slices per bite, but don’t overdo it.

NOODLES AND EGGPLANT

1 pound fresh, wide wheat noodles (see headnote for suggestions)

8 cups boiling water

2 small eggplants

2 to 4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

SAUCE

1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

8 ounces ground pork (15 percent fat)

½ medium yellow onion, cut into ½-inch dice

2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 tablespoons mild rice wine

6 to 8 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons sweet wheat paste

1 tablespoon regular soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

¼ cup hot water

GARNISH

1 Persian or other small seedless cucumber, trimmed and julienned

1 green onion, trimmed and julienned, optional

1. Prepare your own noodles or buy fresh ones that are wide and have a nice texture, like pappardelle. Shake the noodles out onto a tea towel and loosen the strands. Cover them with the towel to keep them from drying out. Have the water in a pot on the stove with the lid on to keep it hot.

2. Clean and trim the eggplants and then cut them into ½-inch cubes without peeling. They can be deep-fried or roasted in the oven. To fry them, heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat and fry the eggplants until they are browned all over; to bake, toss the eggplants in some oil and bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes, turning them over now and then until they are completely browned. Remove the eggplants to a work bowl.

3. To prepare the sauce, heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over medium-high heat and add the pork, onion, ginger, and garlic. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Raise the heat to medium-high again and fry the mixture until it has some browned edges.

4. Pour in the rice wine and stir it around quickly to stop the caramelization. Scoop the mixture up one side of the wok. Raise the heat to high, pour the sesame oil into the wok, and add the sweet wheat paste. Stir the paste in the oil to break it up into a smooth layer and to fry out any raw flavors. Add the soy sauce and sugar. Mix the meat mixture into the sauce and toss this around over the heat. Pour in the hot water and stir the sauce to incorporate the water. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the eggplant, taste and adjust the seasoning, and then cook the sauce for another 3 minutes.

5. Just before serving, cook the noodles until done, making sure to keep them nice and chewy. Use a Chinese spider or slotted spoon to remove them to noodle bowls, but don’t pour out the noodle water. Ladle the sauce on top of each mound of noodles and garnish with the cucumbers and the optional green onions. Serve a bowl of the hot noodle water on the side to each person as a soup. Your diners should toss the noodles with the sauce and garnish before eating.
No bean sauce. I think sticking with just tianmianjiang this isn't really the Sichuan fork of the dish.

Hsiao-Ching Chou, Chinese Soul Food, 2018

My husband and kids call this “Chinese spaghetti” because the Chinese name is hard for them to pronounce. Zha jian mian literally translates to “fried sauce noodles.” It indeed resembles an Italian ragu or meat sauce. This dish is usually made with minced beef or pork and may include any number of diced vegetables, including carrots, napa cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms. My mom always used ground pork and frozen peas and carrots—which we always had around for the fried rice we served at the restaurant. I’ve tried adding shiitake mushrooms and pressed tofu (tofu gan) to the sauce, but the kids (my husband included) prefer the peas-and-carrots version.

MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS

For the sauce:

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 pound ground pork

1 cup diced fresh tomatoes

1 stalk green onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger

1½ cup water

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons sweet bean sauce

1 tablespoon bean sauce

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry Marsala wine

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup frozen peas and carrots (optional)

1 pound dried thin or wide Chinese noodles

1 cucumber or 2 Persian cucumbers, finely julienned, for garnish

2 stalks green onions, finely chopped, for garnish

Chili sauce, for garnish

■ Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.

■ Meanwhile, make the sauce. Preheat a wok over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and heat until it starts to shimmer. Carefully add the ground pork, breaking it up with your spatula. You want the meat to fry in the oil and get some crispy edges. Break up, stir, and flip the pork bits to get all sides. Once browned with some crispy edges, remove the wok from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a small bowl and set aside. Discard any residual oil and rendered fat. There’s no need to wash the wok, but you can wipe the surface with a kitchen towel or clean sponge.

■ Return the wok to the stove over high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add the water, soy sauce, sweet bean sauce, bean sauce, wine, and sugar, and stir again to combine. Let simmer for 2 minutes. Add the browned pork and stir to combine. Add the peas and carrots, and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes more, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.

■ While the sauce is simmering, add the noodles to the boiling water, and cook for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the noodles are soft, not mushy, and still have structure. The cooking time will depend on the type of noodle. Drain.

■ To serve, toss the noodles in the sauce, or arrange the noodles on a plate and ladle the sauce on top. Garnish with the cucumber, onions, and chili sauce.
Quite light on the bean sauce and sweet component for the time this was written. Interesting how the lighter flavor versions still persist.

Mandy Fu, Souped up Recipes, Youtube, 2017
Ingredients

MAIN INGREDIENTS FOR ZHAJIANG NOODLES
1 pound of hand made noodles
Some shredded cucumber
Some shredded carrot
Some shredded lettuce
Some Chinese celery
Some bean sprouts
FOR THE SAUCE:
10 ounces [283 grams] of ground pork belly
4 tbsp of soybean paste
1.5 tbsp of sweet soybean paste
1/4 cup of water
2 tbsp of minced ginger
1/4 cup of finely minced garlic
1/4 cup of white part of spring onion


Directions

Make the vegetable topping:

Julienne the carrot, cabbage, cucumber. Cut the Chinese celery into little pieces. Have some bean sprouts ready. You can use other vegetables like baby bamboo shoots, mushroom... it's your choice.

Make the fried sauce:

Combine 4 tbsp of soy bean sauce with 1.5 tbsp of sweet soy bean sauce and 1/4 cup of water.
Heat up your wok, on the highest level, for 10 seconds then turn the heat to low. Put in the ground pork (30-50% fat), saute it on low heat.
After 3 minutes, the fat is almost melted and the meat should become a little bit golden brown. Push them to the side. You can see all that fat. We will use the oil to fry the sauce.
Slowly add the sauce into the wok. Make sure to keep the heat on the lowest setting. Use your spatula stir it for about 1 minute.
Then mix the sauce with the pork and add in all the aromatics- the ginger, garlic, scallion. Stir this for 5 minutes. Keep your eyes on the sauce. It is very important. You should see the oil and the sauce are separated. This is how you know it's done!
Traditionally we will leave the fat in the sauce, but if you don’t like that, you can drain the fat out.

Cook the noodles:

Put the noodles in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. After 2 minutes you can try one and see if you want it softer. Once you think it is good to take it out and put it in a bowl.
Place the vegetables and put some zha jiang on top of the noodles.
One thing you should know is that zha jiang is very salty and savory. If you never had it before, you might want to add a little bit sauce first, mix it with the noodles and then add more if needed.
This is pretty much how I make it. Strong aromatics, about 1 T of bean sauce per person and lots of vegie garnish.


Mike Chen, Cook with Mikey, Youtube, 2020
No written directions, but I'm mostly interested in his ratios at this point in our discussion.
Ingredients:
1 Cucumber
3 Cloves Garlic
1 Scallion
Noodles
1/2 Cup Chinese Bean Paste
1/2 Cup Chinese Sweet Flour Sauce (Also sweat bean sauce)
I mention this one just mostly for the contemporary use of doubanjiang and the high volumes used. Definitely boldly flavored.
 

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Korea and Japan

Jajangmyeon

Korea picked up the dish from Chinese workers from Shandong who came to Korea in the later 1800s. In the evolution of the dish, tianmianjiang evolved into something different now called chunjang sauce wtih fermented beans, flour, caramel color. Because this sauce is usually transalated as Black Bean Sauce the dish is Black Bean Sauce Noodles.

With the rising popularity of Korean food, expect to see this dish rising in popularity as well.

Jajamen

This is the Japanese version of the dish. @chrislehrer could probably tell us more about it.

It's most famous in Morioka because a resident of that city brought the dish there from China developing it using Japanese ingredients. Miso replaces the bean sauce and mentsuyu seems to carry the sweetness and other complexity.

The noodle is usually described as like udon, but slightly thinner. Other variations include a soup and and an egg, togehter or singly added near the end of eating to transform the last bites into a special finish.
 

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A few comments on these amazing posts, from someone who knows less about the cuisine but did several years of the language:

1. Huangdou (lit. "yellow-bean") is definitely soybeans in Mandarin, which should cover usages throughout northern China. The various kinds of long beans or broad beans would not fall under this terminology unless there is a special regionalism, which seems unlikely given your presentation.

2. Tiánmiàn is these days usually written 甜面, but the latter is a simplified (shorthand) version of 麵, which really means flour or arguably dough. Thus the automatic translators render it "sweet noodle," because 面 usually does mean noodle, but here it means sweet flour or sweet dough. Incidentally, there are cases in which "dough" can mean a dense paste of ground beans and water: you might see a recipe using the term to refer to something akin to miso, for example (note how the texture -- a VERY big deal in Chinese gastronomic classification -- of miso is a lot like a dough). So you may be looking at a usage that could be unpacked "sweet fermented-bean-dough sauce," which might explain some things.

3. To the best of my knowledge, which is limited here, doubanjiang is always made from broad beans (cándòu 蠶豆). I bet there are regional variations, but the expectation is certainly broadbeans.

4. Lin Xiangru (Hsiang Ju) was the daughter of Lin Yutang (Yu Tang). In theory, she was the author of that book, so in that sense the author should be "she." In fact, it seems to be a known thing among Chinese gourmets that Lin Yutang wrote a lot of it -- basically all the color text -- and his daughter formalized the recipes. My personal view is that therefore this book's author should always be referred to in the neutral and plural as "they": I bet the daughter did a lot more work than the (rather misogynistic) Chinese gourmet audience gives her credit for, but I also believe that Lin Yutang contributed a great deal to the literary quality of the book.

5. On the subject of the Lins' book, I would not rely over-heavily on any fine details of things like spice or sauce or condiment identification. That book was written in a situation of extreme scarcity, and presented to an audience that basically couldn't get much of anything and didn't want to anyway. The whole thing is a kind of labor of love to a gastronomy that has died. (Note when the first edition was: Cultural Revolution, here we come!) Lean on the concepts, the principles, the notions, but don't over-emphasize fine details like this. That was sort of how my old mentor Anthony C. Yu (a very hard-core gastronome as well as a distinguished scholar of Chinese literature) explained to me how to use the book, and I've found that it seems to work well.

6. Jajanmen/Jajamen (Japanese version): you've got it right -- it's kind of catch-as-catch-can, using miso (which kind? it matters!) and some kind of basic tsuyu. When you set that into context, it's basically miso plus the sauce base of ramen plus noodles, producing a bowl of non-broth noodles... you get the picture.

Okay, so my overall take here, other than wanting to celebrate these posts as a wonderful new contribution to ChefTalk that everyone ought to be cheering:

A. I think you may be slightly misreading the sauce:noodle proportion issue here. As I read it, Chinese recipes of this general sort (premodern street foods) are strong on flavor and low on meat. I think this dish, 150 years ago or so, would have been sauced kind of like a classical tagliatelle in Bologna: not much sauce, quite a bit of oil, lots of noodles, toss it up to make it come to life. Dandanmian is much the same. It's noodles first, then sauce, carried by a very complicated oil, with crunchy garnishes of whatever is on hand. For me, if I were trying to perfect zhajiangmian (or dandanmian, for that matter), I'd be shooting for that tagliatelle proportion as a base and working from there. Incidentally, I think this is what Li Liweng was bitching about that the Lins are quoting: he's deriding the Southerners for putting noodles into soup, so it's like the noodles are garnish or something, because they don't understand that the noodles are what counts, because they're idiots with no palate or refinement. (I assure you the Southerners had and have just as nasty things to say about Northern cuisines!)

B. I think the huangdoujiang/doubanjiang thing is a red herring. It's basically a paste of fermented whatever-the-hell-beans-we-had-on-hand. Soybeans are usually fermented dry for this kind of thing, or they tend to turn into what the Japanese call natto (i.e., bean snot); most beans are fermented semi-fresh. For this dish, you use what's cheap, local, intensely umami-flavorful, and on hand. What it is NOT, clearly, is piquant-spicy -- at least, not by the standards of more central-western cuisines like Sichuan/Hunan/Shaanxi.

C. My suspicion is that if we had access to all the intense fighting about this dish within China over the last 150-odd years, most of it would be about the noodles and the fineness (texture-wise) of the meat. I don't know that, certainly, but I'd bet you a dollar.

Again, this is wonderful! I look forward to more of the products of your researches! I truly wish my mentor Tony were still with us, because I know he'd love these posts -- and he'd have a LOT to say. So a bittersweet congratulations, again.
 
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