Jajangmyeon is a Korean noodle dish that is topped with a smooth, thick sauce, and served with pork and vegetables. It’s an old recipe, with origins reaching back to 1905, when it was first made in Korea’s only official Chinatown. The savory meal gained a boom of popularity in mid-1950s South Korea and has been a well-loved dish ever since.
The rich concoction of black bean sauce, diced-up pork, noodles, and veggies is delicious, filling, and comforting. What does jajangmyeon taste like, though?
Jajangmyeon has a deep, earthy flavor that is just slightly bitter, coming from the black bean sauce that it is made with. The pork brings in a savory, gamey note as well, and there is a light, spicy undertone. The noodles are thick, chewy, and mild, making them a perfect vessel for a fragrant, comforting meal.
What Does Jajangmyeon Taste Like?
Jajangmyeon has four components: the sauce, the pork, the noodles, and the vegetables. Each brings its own unique flavor profile to the finished product.
The sauce in jajangmyeon is made from chunjang, a thick black-bean gravy. In home cooking, the sauce is usually made from black bean paste combined with a starch slurry. Aromatics like ginger and scallions bring in a bit of bite.
The starch slurry is usually potato starch that has been mixed with water and a pinch of sugar. The sweetness from sugar cuts through the bitterness just barely, and it allows the sauce to lightly caramelize.
While the sauce carries a faint spiciness, it is not overwhelming and would be acceptable to those who don’t do well with other heat-heavy recipes. Some instant variations do crank up the spiciness factor, and you could do this as well if you’re cooking from home.
The most common vegetables you’ll find in a jajangmyeon are onions, radish, Korean squash (though zucchini may also be used), and in some cases, cabbage. Onion adds depth and sharpness, and the radish adds a bit of tang.
Vegetables in the dish are usually stir-fried with the pork and sauce, so they take on all of the lovely saltiness of the pork, and earthy bitterness from the sprout bean sauce. Potato is sometimes added to the pot too, supplying a touch of earthy flavor and overall heartiness.
The pork in jajangmyeon is usually meat from the belly or shoulder. Regardless of the part, it should be tender, gamey, and faintly sweet. The meat is chopped into small cubes and cooked until it is crisp, rendering out the fat. What is left is crunchy and salty.
Pork belly will have a more noticeable ridge of fat to it, and rendering this down will make the pieces wonderfully tender. Since the vegetables and sauce are cooked in this rendered fat, they will take on an incredibly delicious salty, filling quality.
The noodles used in jajangmyeon are usually somewhere between linguine pasta and udon noodles in terms of thickness. Noodles themselves will only taste somewhat ‘plain’, perhaps vaguely salty.
Any bite of jajangmyeon will be an interesting, complex texture experience. Since there are so many components at play, the final mouthfeel is sure to please.
Jajangmyeon noodles are cooked so that they’re chewy, almost glutenous. The sauce itself is smooth, but the chunks of pork and veggies add variance and interest. Crispy, crunchy hunks of pork play along with stir-fried vegetables, and every bite will have meat and veggies in it.
The pungent, earthy, even woody aroma of jajangmyeon is part of what makes it such a delectable, comforting dish. The black beans add a somewhat fermented scent, with a hint of tang underscored by bitterness. Pork makes the scent meaty and rich, making for a deliciously savory scent.
Packets of instant jajangmyeon are perfect for those who want the earthy flavors of the dish, but don’t have the time or budget to whip it up from scratch. These packs are easy to find at Asian supermarkets, and you’ll be greeted with an array of brands and styles.
Instant jajangmyeon may be saltier than homemade if any preservatives have been added to the pack for longevity. Many reviews claim that instant jajangmyeon is good, but not quite as savory, filling, and hearty as homemade jajangmyeon.
Some variations might bring the heat; there are a number of instant varieties that are extra spicy. This could be good if you are looking to take the already present heat in jajangmyeon and crank it up a notch.
For a fishier flavor, seafood jajangmyeon, which is referred to as samseon jajangmyeon, is often available alongside traditional jajangmyeon at restaurants. The cooking method is nearly the same, only swapping pork for seafood.
The name itself, samseon, means ‘3 fresh sea ingredients’, and can include favorites like squid, shrimp, clams, or mussels.
If using squid, you can look forward to the chewy texture and oceanic taste it will add to the overall dish. Clams will be tiny, savory, almost sweet bites amid the bitter sauce. These ingredients can be spiced as well to bring a kick of heat to the overall dish.
Another interesting variant, jaengban-jang, is made when the parboiled noodles are stir-fried with the sauce. Not only does this operation stiffen the noodles, as with other fried noodle dishes, but it helps the noodles absorb the sauce.
Jaengban-jang is served on a plate, as opposed to a bowl. This is implied in the name; jaengban means ‘plate’ in Korean.
This variation on the classic jajangmyeon is made with ground beef instead of cubed pork. The fatty, savory taste of ground beef will be smoky and rich when mixed with the black-bean jajangmyeon sauce. The beef itself will change the texture too, making it more crumbly and juicy.
This variation is interesting; it is made with a ‘dry’ sauce instead of a smooth, flowing one. The dryness just means there is less sauce on it in general, but the noodles still have a thin covering of the black bean paste base used to make the traditional sauce.
Jajangmyeon is a popular comfort food dish in South Korea, enjoyed by millions every day. It is full of chewy, saucy, smooth textures, perfect for warming up on a cold day. It can be made from scratch, or put together from an instant pack.
The flavor is earth, pungent, and bitter. There is a faint kick of spice and a mild undertone of sweetness. The pork is gamey, savory, and crispy, while the vegetables are lighter and softer. Ginger and scallions make for an aromatic meal.