Jajangmyeon (자장면) or jjajangmyeon (짜장면) is a Korean Chinese noodle dish topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang, diced pork and vegetables. A variant of the dish uses seafood.
Jajangmyeon dates back to 1905, when it first appeared in Gonghwachun (공화춘; 共和春) restaurant in Incheon Chinatown run by an immigrant from the Shandong Province of China. The restaurant is now the Jjajangmyeon Museum.
Although the name jajangmyeon is cognate with the Chinese dish zhájiàngmiàn (炸酱面), Korean jajangmyeon differs in many ways. Yong Chen, an associate history professor at the University of California, Irvine, argued that although the dish “began as the Northern Chinese noodle-and-ground pork dish zhájiàngmiàn, it is thoroughly Korean.”
Jajang (자장; alternately spelled jjajang 짜장) derived from the Chinese word zhájiàng (炸酱), which means “fried sauce”. Myeon (면) means “noodles”. The Chinese characters are pronounced jak (작; 炸) and jang (장; 醬) in Korean, but the noodle dish is called jajangmyeon, not jakjangmyeon, because its origin is not the Sino-Korean word, but the transliteration of the Chinese pronunciation. As the Chinese pronunciation of zhá sounded like jja (rather than ja) to Korean ears, the dish has been known in South Korea as jjajangmyeon, and the vast majority of Korean Chinese restaurants use this spelling.
Naming dispute and changes
However, until 22 August 2011, National Institute of Korean Language did not recognize the spelling as a solidified idiomatic transliteration. Later jjajangmyeon was accepted as an alternate standard spelling alongside the existing jajangmyeon in the National Language Deliberation Council, and on August 31, it’s announced as a standard language and incluced in the Standard Korean Language Dictionary. The reason why jjajangmyeon did not become the standard spelling was due to the rules for foreign words transliteration announced in 1986 by the Ministry of Education, which stated that the foreign obstruents should not be transliterated using doubled consonants except for some established usages.
Consequently, there was a criticism of the standard transliteration. Those in favor of the jjajangmyeon questioned if jjamppong should really be called jambong as per the official manual. In the 95th episode of Korean food culture cartoon Sikgaek, Ahn Do-hyeon, the Sowol Poetry Prize winning Korean poet, announced that he would always write the dish’s name as jjajangmyeon, not jajangmyeon, because the former is the name with which he associates all his childhood memories of the dish. In his book of essays jjajangmyeon, he wrote he never saw a Korean Chinese food restaurant selling jajangmyeon (spelled with single j) ever, anywhere in Korea. He wrote an article in the newspaper about why he insists to write jjajangmyeon. He says in the article, the sound of jja (with fortis consonant) makes the smell of jjajangmyeon, which was soaked in people’s memory, stimulate their noses more profoundly and aggressively. Also, when all is said and done, the power of jjajangmyeon comes from the power spread by its smell. An episode in the article shows how much he loved this name. After he published a book jjajangmyeon, he made an interview in a broadcast station. The interviewer, who was a woman announcer, kept saying jajangmyeon even though the title of the book was not that. The poet thought the announcer’s word jajangmyeon is unfamiliar and tasteless, and although there’s a familiar and tasty word jjajangmyeon, she says jajangmyeon to satisfy herself. (Announcers have to pronounce completely in rules, and back then, jajangmyeon was the right usage) He says he could understand that as a strong work ethic, but sitting in front of her made him feel tight and stifling. Because of the unreasonable jealousy, when he says jjajangmyeon, he pronounced jja very strong. Every time he say jja, he could see she knits her brows.
Preparation and serving
Jajangmyeon uses thick, hand-made or machine-pulled noodles made from wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and water. The sauce, jajang, is made with fried chunjang with other ingredients, such as soy sauce (and/or oyster sauce), meat (usually pork, but sometimes beef), seafood (usually squid and/or shrimp), fragrants (scallions, ginger, and garlic) vegetables (usually onions, zucchini or Korean zucchini, cabbage, and), stock, and starch slurry.
When served, jajangmyeon may be topped with julienned cucumber, egg garnish, boiled or fried egg, blanched shrimp, and/or stir-fried bamboo shoot slices. The dish is usually served with danmuji (yellow pickled radish), sliced raw onions, and chunjang sauce for dipping the onions.
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