If you’ve been to Lan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House in Philadelphia, they offer zha jiang mian (pork with brown sauce with noodles??) that is very popular, but this ain’t no zha jiang mian, in my opinion. It tastes more like a confused hybrid of 炸酱 (zha jiang) and 魯肉 (lu rou, also known as rou zao).
The zha jiang mian I’m used to eating is a hearty, chunky, thick, brown sauce…with noodles and julienned veggies. I had it this way in Beijing, in restaurants in LA, and in my mom’s kitchen 🙂
The essential ingredients for this sauce are fermented soybean pastes (isn’t it neat how most cultures’ cuisines have figured out what wonders fermentation does for food? miso paste, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, etc). Dou ban jiang, soybean paste, has a short ingredient list including soybeans, salt, and flour, and has a umami savory taste to it, and I would describe it as a paste version of a less fermented soy sauce. Tian mian jiang has mostly flour (mian means flour), but is sweet instead! The texture and consistency reminds me a lot of Korean red pepper paste- gochujang, but it’s not spicy, obviously.
My sister invited some students over for a movie, and I helped by making the zha jiang mian. The students all loved it, and all of them were native-born Chinese, and one of them who particularly liked it, said that he spent his college days in Beijing, travelling about for good food. Major win! It made me really happy to hear that my food was validated by who I like to call, REAL CHINESE people! Not just ABCs…but people who have lived in China, and in Beijing, the birthplace of zha jiang mian! Weeeee! By the way, zha jiang mian is a great dish for lots of people- I cooked this for about 15 people- just cook lots of vegetables, noodles, and a big pot of the meat sauce. Then, people can help themselves to whatever they want.
Chinese Spaghetti (for lack of a better translation)
Zha Jiang Mian
2 tsp oil
One small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 lb ground pork
1 Tbsp rice wine or Shaoxing wine, whatever you have on hand
~3-4 Tbsp dou ban jiang (豆瓣酱) – soybean paste
~3-4 Tbsp tian mian jiang (甜麵酱）- sweet flour paste
1 pkg doufu gan (豆腐干), chopped finely OR 1/2 lb more ground pork (1 lb pork total)
Soy sauce, if necessary
Chinese noodles (fresh is better, but dry is fine, too)
Julienned cucumbers (I like English cucumbers…much crunchier)
Mung bean sprouts
Boiled soybeans (optional)
1) Add some oil to a hot pan, followed by onion and garlic. Sautee until soft and fragrant!
2) Add the pork, and brown the meat on medium high. Sprinkle wine evenly atop the meat and stir to disperse. Then add the doufu gan. Increase heat to high, and try to brown the doufu gan as well.
3) When the meat is cooked through and dofu gan heated through and brownish, add dou ban jiang and tian mian jiang in approximately 1:1 ratios. Start with 2 T. of each to start. Add enough of the jiang so that it fully coats the meat and doufu gan. Keep tasting! The tian mian jiang is much sweeter than the dou ban jiang. If you think it needs to be saltier overall, you can feel free to add some soy sauce, but I have found that it is usually plenty salty for me with just the dou ban jiang. Add enough water just to cover the meat, then bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
4) Boil enough water to cook noodles (no salt), add julienned carrots, and scoop out with slotted spoon when they are cooked but not mushy! Plunge mung bean sprouts briefly in the hot water. Bring the water back to a boil, then add noodles and cook until done. Drain and rinse.
5) Portion out noodles into the bowl. Top with meat sauce, cooked carrots, soybeans (optional) bean sprouts, and raw cucumbers. Enjoy with hot sauce if you want! My favorite is this one, because it is really spicy and does not hijack the show by imposing its own flavor on the dish.