The Many Faces of Jjajangmyeon. Well, Two.

The Many Faces of Jjajangmyeon. Well, Two.

There are three kinds of restaurants in Chungju: Korean, Chinese, and McDonalds. After the initial "OMG! Hamburgers!" moment, McDs lost it's charm for us. We never ate there when we lived in the States, so it's not that nostalgic for us now. Also, there's this. When we go out to dinner, we usually eat Korean. That's no hardship--Korean food is delicious, especially when I'm not the one cooking it. But as Americans, we're spoiled. Back home, our restaurant choices ran from Italian to Ethiopian. Sometimes we still crave that variety. So we go out for Chinese.

Korea's Chinese food is not unlike America's Chinese food--that is to say, not actually Chinese. More Chinish. Unlike Chinese restaurants in the US, with their mile-long menus and buffet tables, all the ones we've tried here sell the same three dishes: tang su yukjjambbong, and jjajangmyeon.

Tang su yuk is sweet and sour pork--delicious and familiar. Jjambbong is a soupy noodle dish with lots of seafood and veg. Also tasty, though less familiar. But our favorite, and definitely the most popular, is jjajangmyeon, black bean noodles. Its a staple comfort food in Korea, and the closest thing restaurants have to a Kiddie Menu. So it should be no surprise that I love it.

That's jjajangmyeon, with tang su yuk in the background.
That's jjajangmyeon, with tang su yuk in the background.

Jjajang is a thick, glossy black bean sauce with tiny cubes of vegetables and meat. It is warm and salty/sweet, and totally reminds me of Campbells' beef noodle soup. It's cheap too: ₩4,000 for a giant bowl at our neighborhood Chinese place. You can get it delivered to your apartment by motorbike. What's not to love?

Jjajangmyeon is also a food with culture relevance. It's what single people eat on Black Day--the equivalent of dressing in funeral garb for Valentine's.

Nowadays jjajangmyeon is considered junk food, like pizza or chicken. But we hadn't realized how much so until we found these.


Now, my addiction to Cheetos is well known. I'd give a puppy a swirly for a bag of crunchy cheddar. Though Korea does have Cheetos, cheese is not one of their native flavors. All they have is Mixed Vegetable and Barbecued Meat. That's more than sad. It's unethical. But also off my current topic.

Anyway, this week we stumbled upon a new flavor--Jjajang Cheetos!

And I have to tell you guys, they're...actually, they're not very good at all. Black bean-flavored Sugar Pops. The sweet taste of disappointment.

Real jjajangmyeon, though, is worth the salt and calories. In case the motorbikes don't deliver to your house, here's a recipe to try. An Asian grocery store should be able to help you out with the bean paste.