Noodles for special occasions, Japchae!
There are different kinds of noodles used for cooking, flour based noodles which are usually used for soup-dishes, and in Korea for stir-fry dishes sweet potato noodles (starchy noodles such as Cellophane noodles) called Dangmyeon are popular. Dangmyeon can be used in soup dishes (such as Galbi-tang), and as a sub-ingredient of the filling in Korean dumplings (Mandu). But we would focus on a dish wherein the Noodles would play the role of the main ingredient, which would be Japchae.
Japchae is a stir-fry dish with vegetables and meat in a soy-based sweet sauce. Usually the noodles would absorb the sauce, and would result in a brown color, and vegetables such as onions, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, etc. are used to add color aside from the flavor into the dish. The ingredients are usually stir-fried separately to keep their natural color, in a form that is usually long such as the noodles which makes preparing the dish a tedious task. The dish is mostly prepared at special events, and is considered to be a delicacy.
Japchae was offered at the royal table to the King at the time, which would be made up of the specialties of each region, and was said to reflect the quality of the products of the region. This allowed the King to be able to look over the situation of each region even during his meal times. If a certain ingredient from a certain region was not offered, it would reflect the hardship of the common people of that region. Initially, Japchae did not have the noodles that are present in today’s version of the dish; it was a stir-fry vegetable dish. It is said that the noodles were introduced after the Korean war (June 5th, 1950), to compensate for the decline of the agricultural goods and the respective rise in the prices of such goods.
Originally, Japchae wasn’t even mixed with sauce; it was more of a steamed vegetable dish that would be dipped into a soy-based or a chili-based sauce. But with the inclusion of the Dangmyeon, the vegetable taste had to be intensified which resulted in the mix of the sauce and the stir-fried vegetables. Currently, there are various Japchae today which do not have the Dangmyeon, but are known by different names and are treated as variations. There is a Chinese variation of Japchae, and it is more widely known as the inspiration for the American Chinese dish, Chopsuey.
Japchae has changed over the years, in terms of the cooking method the ingredients, but today’s version of Japchae is still loved all over Korea. It may seem familiar but it still has the distinct Korean aspect that makes it different and unique. Why not try a dish of Japchae today to get your daily dose of vegetables?