A traditional Beijing dish, zhajiang mian means, literally, noodles with salty fermented soybean paste. If it sounds too strange, fear not. It is a very delicious and flavorful dish perfect for summer, easy to make, and almost synonymous with Beijing.
A Filipino chef who came to Beijing to learn traditional Chinese cooking describes it thus: “the noodle dish with a taste that builds up in your mouth.” The first two bites you take of the sauce-coated noodles seem almost bland; then the sauce kicks in with succeeding mouthfuls.
You will enjoy making this easy “Chinese spaghetti sauce” at home. One batch goes a long way, and you can have the pleasure of eating the noodles without having to struggle with chopsticks and slurping in public. Kids can twirl the noodles on a fork and spoon the Italian way too!
The three main ingredients are: tian mian jiang (sweet noodle sauce), huang jiang (yellow ginger sauce), and mai mian (wheat noodles). These can be purchased at any market or grocery store, both local and geared for expats. Have a look in the seasoning aisle for the sauce packets. Altogether, the three ingredients will cost roughly RMB 18.
In a bowl, pour out the contents of one packet each of tian mian jiang and huang jiang. Add 6 tablespoons of water, mix well until free from lumps. Set aside. In a frying pan, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil, sauté some chopped shallots and 50 grams of ground pork or shredded chicken.
When meat is brown, add the sauce mixture, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a dash of pepper and mix well together. Let simmer on low heat for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. If the sauce starts to dry out, add more water a spoonful at a time. Maintain a thick consistency, the sauce should not be runny.
Meanwhile, boil the noodles the same way you would cook spaghetti. Bring half a liter of lightly-salted water to a boil, add a teaspoon of oil, then place 200 grams of noodles for two minutes. Bring the heat down to low, cover, and cook for another six minutes. Check that the noodles are cooked throughy, and when they are, drain the noodles and rinse in cold water. Serve noodles in individual bowls, and top with two tablespoons of the sauce. Have some cold julienned cucumbers and radishes on the side, as well as chopped spring onions. Go wild with some crushed peanuts on top.
This post first appeared here on June 9, 2013.