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My Jjajangmyun Journey: From Seoul to Incheon

Updated: Feb 7

Growing up, I was mesmerized by scenes in Korean dramas where characters devoured Jjajangmyun. For a Los Angeles kid, accustomed only to pizza delivery in cardboard boxes, the Korean practice of delivering Jjajangmyun in metal crates, with reusable plastic bowls, was nothing short of astonishing. I even went as far as preparing instant Jjajangmyun, sealing it with plastic wrap to mimic what I saw onscreen. Yep, I was that kid. Naturally, tasting authentic Jjajangmyun in Korea was an absolute must. Though I didn't experience it delivered, I was fortunate enough to savor it three memorable times.



(5 Siblings Hand Jjajang Restaurant)

My Jjajangmyun journey began right after touching down in Korea, post-spa relaxation. The first taste was near my youngest aunt's apartment, where I could see the noodles being handcrafted. It felt authentic and set the bar high. The name of the restaurant translates to 5 siblings hand jja jang.






(Old fashion style Jjajangmyun)


The second experience was in Seoul, close to Haneul Park, where I tried a version translated as "old fashioned" or "classic" Jjajangmyun. It hit the spot, maintaining the high standard of my initial encounter.








However, the third time was truly magical, offering the best Jjajangmyun experience. The restaurant's name was Shandong Kitchen.


(Shandong Kitchen entrance)

(Jjajangmyun, Jjajangmyun mixed)

(Tangsuyuk, Jjamppong)

Alongside the Jjajangmyun, we indulged in Jjamppong (spicy seafood noodle soup) and Tangsuyuk (sweet and sour pork). I definitely still crave that meal and when I go back to Korea, I must go back to Incheon. It makes sense the best was in Incheon as that’s where Jjajangmyun was born.


The Historical Tapestry of Incheon's Chinatown

Chinatown's story is of perseverance, adaptation, and cultural melding. From its inception, when Chinese merchants first set foot in Incheon, Chinatown was more than just a commercial outpost; it was a bridge between two cultures. As the community grew, so did its cultural imprint, creating a unique blend that resonates in the very fabric of the area.


The Birth of Jjajangmyun: A Culinary Chronicle

Created by Chinese immigrants, it was a way to bring a taste of home to Korea. This dish, initially a simple blend of noodles and black bean sauce, has evolved over the years, adapting to Korean tastes and becoming a national favorite.


The story of Jjajangmyun is a story of cultural convergence and culinary innovation. Originating from the shores of Shandong Province in China, this dish journeyed to Korea, where it underwent a remarkable transformation, embedding itself deeply in the heart of Korean cuisine.


(Entrance to Chinatown, Incheon)

From Zhajiangmian to Jjajangmyun

In its original form, the dish known as zhajiangmian featured a savory sauce made from fermented soybean paste, combined with chopped pork and vegetables. It was a simple, hearty meal, beloved in northern China. However, upon reaching Korea, this dish began to evolve. The Korean palate, favoring sweeter and more robust flavors, transformed zhajiangmian into Jjajangmyun. The sauce became thicker and sweeter, deviating significantly from its original Chinese counterpart.


The Birth of Jjajangmyun in Incheon

It was in the bustling kitchens of Incheon's Chinatown where Jjajangmyun truly came to life. Chinese immigrants, aiming to cater to Korean tastes, modified the recipe, leading to the creation of a new, uniquely Korean dish. The addition of caramel to the sauce lent it a distinct sweetness and a deeper black color, while ingredients like diced pork, onions, and zucchini added depth and texture.


Cultural and Culinary Significance

Jjajangmyun swiftly grew in popularity across Korea, transcending its status as a mere food item to become a cultural phenomenon. Today, it is not just a beloved comfort food but also a symbol of Korea's ability to adopt and adapt external influences, creating something uniquely its own.  Something Koreans do so well.


Jjajangmyun in Korean Culture: A Dish for Every Occasion

Jjajangmyun, a humble dish with its roots in Incheon's Chinatown, has grown to become an integral part of Korean culture, resonating with millions across the nation. It is more than just a meal; it's an integral part of various occasions and traditions in South Korea, symbolizing comfort, celebration, and even commiseration. Here are some of the different occasions when Koreans traditionally eat Jjajangmyun:


Moving Day (이사)

Jjajangmyun is famously consumed on moving day in Korea. The tradition stems from the dish's convenience and the belief that the black sauce symbolizes wealth and prosperity, hoping to bring good luck to the new home. It's also a practical choice, as moving day is hectic, and Jjajangmyun can be easily ordered and delivered, providing a hearty meal for everyone involved without the need for cooking.


Black Day (블랙데이)

Celebrated on April 14th, Black Day is a unique occasion for single people in South Korea who did not receive gifts on Valentine's Day or White Day. Singles gather to commiserate their single status by eating Jjajangmyun, with the black sauce reflecting the theme of the day. It's both a humorous and comforting way for singles to bond over delicious food while celebrating or poking fun at their single life.


Exam Preparation

Students preparing for important exams, such as the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), often eat Jjajangmyun as a source of comfort and stress relief. Parents might order Jjajangmyun for their children as a show of support and to provide a break from the rigors of study, hoping to boost their morale and energy levels.


Special Occasions and Celebrations

While not strictly traditional, Jjajangmyun is also a popular choice for casual celebrations and gatherings in Korea. Its widespread appeal and affordability make it an easy choice for graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, or even just as a treat to enjoy with family and friends. The act of sharing a meal of Jjajangmyun can foster a sense of togetherness and joy. (Jungkook of BTS celebrating his graduation with Jjjangmyun)


Solace and Comfort

Jjajangmyun serves as comfort food for many Koreans, eaten during times of stress, heartache, or when in need of a quick, satisfying meal. Its warm, hearty nature provides solace and a sense of satisfaction, making it a go-to dish for those seeking a culinary hug.


Jjajangmyun transcends its status as a mere noodle dish to become a part of Korea's cultural and emotional landscape, marking moments of transition, celebration, and even solitude. Its presence at these various occasions underscores the deep connection between food and the emotional fabric of daily life in Korea.


 

This unique travel planner and journal is expertly crafted for travelers embarking on a journey to South Korea. Whether you're a first-timer or a seasoned visitor, this guide offers an integrated approach to planning and documenting your experiences in Korea. It includes a travel and budget checklist and note pages to help you plan for the trip. As well as journal note pages to document your trip.













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