I have a noodle infatuation. There, I admitted it- first step of recovery. I love the doughy chewy texture that noodles give when you first bite into it. When you fill your mouth with a really long strand or big bite of noodle with some delicately developed sauce or broth; it’s like an amusement ride for your mouth. Home made noodles are pretty much the best, but sometimes a nice packaged or store bought brand does the job for me. The best though, is when your brother comes into your room on a Saturday morning at 9 am, waking you after some drinking with some friends, and says, “noodles tonight? I’m making” [Him talking like Yoda could be associated with my drinking, not how he actually talks], you can’t help but want to throw something at him for disturbing my beauty sleep-and then say yes.
My brother is a really good cook. He, like me, loves to watch food network and spend time in the kitchen to relax and create. His forte is more around recreating dishes. When he gets a hankering for something, he’ll try to recreate the dish on his own. Most of the time it is delicious and results into a phase for him. I think one year, I had chicken soup and variations of chicken soup for weeks. This time, the excitement for him is noodles. And, I’m not complaining.
I have a favorite noodle dish. The best is from a restaurant called A & J noodles in Irvine, California. It’s my favorite and I have no idea what is in their recipe but it’s awesome. Growing up in California, we would go almost every other week (and some times, if I’m lucky, every week) to this noodle place. The great thing about this noodle place is that they knew me. I would get the same things every time. If they saw me coming up in the parking lot, then by the time I got to my table I wouldn’t have to order. A couple of minutes later in front of me was a Coke, seaweed salad, and the best noodle dish in the world: Zha Jiang Mian. Oh, just thinking about it is making me excited. It is legal crack. The folks working at the restaurant knew me so well, it was like I had Aunties to make sure I was properly fed…and wanting to know every detail of my love life…and how they had a daughter/niece/cousin/friend…I started going to this place when I was real young, 7 or 8…and they continued to do this well into my college years at 21 or 22. I miss them.
Now, I would describe Zha Jiang Mian as Northern Chinese style Bolognese sauce. It’s chunky and full of meat and little liquid. Served over fresh noodles, no broth, topped with cucumber and bean sprouts, is the way I eat it. Zha Jiang Mian is kind of like mac and cheese, everyone makes it differently. BUT, I like it without the fillers. Just pork. That’s all anyone really needs: some nice ground pork with bits of fat in it. Yum.
And yes, this is my brother’s recipe.
Recipe Notes- Ingredient defining [I should really start a running list/glossary]: The one hard thing that may be difficult to find, it’s difficult to find here in Queens, is Huangdou Jiang. The literal translation is: Yellow Sauce or Yellow Bean Sauce. It is nowhere yellow in color, but quite delicious. You can use Brown Soy Bean Paste or Sweet Bean Paste (not really sweet). Some people also use Hoison Sauce (easier to find). If you use Hoison, taste before adding too much sugar. It’s on the sweeter side. Vegetarian option is to replace with dried tofu and/or rehydrated shitake mushrooms, diced. Your choice.
Also, there is a Korean variation of this dish out there. Not the same and shouldn’t be compared. Although, I do have a favorite.
3½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup warm water
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup of green onions, minced
1½ lb ground pork
2 tbs vegetable oil
4 tbs huangdou jiang (or any of the other substitutes I listed)
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1/8 cup water
1 medium cucumber
1 cup of bean sprouts
mix flour, water, and salt in a large bowl
remove dough from bowl and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes
rest dough covered for at least a half hour in the refrigerator
while dough rests, bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch [lightly cook and cool] bean sprouts and julienne peeled cucumber
knead dough until soft and at room temperature and separate dough into two balls, cover
roll out one ball until ¼ inch thick and with a pizza cutter, cut ½ inch wide noodles, flour noodles to separate
continue with other ball and reserve noodles until sauce is complete
stir fry garlic, green onion, pork in a hot wok or deep pan on high with the oil until fragrant, about 5 minutes
add huangdou jiang and sugar, and stir
mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl and then add to sauce mixture and stir until thick, turn down heat
cook noodles in boiling water until slightly chewy in the center, about 5 minutes
serve noodles in a bowl with sauce, cucumber, and bean sprouts on the top