When cultures collide: Jja-jang myun & tang su yuk

In the cultural triangle that is China, Korea and Japan, there are a lot of similar dishes that each country does in their own way.

For example – China have a gazillion and one types of dumplings, Korea has mandu, and Japan has their gyoza.

In Japan you have sushi (so many kinds), and in Korea we have our kimbap.

And the Korean versions of Chinese zhajiang mian and sweet & sour pork is jja-jang myun and tang su yuk – two staples of Korean take out that anyone living there is veeeeeeeery familiar with.

There’s something to be said for a country that runs on convenience. It’s a different sort of convenience to the U.S., where you can buy things like pre-diced onion and pre-crumbled mince (really??). The sort of convenience you get in Korea is the sort where you can have hand-made dishes such as these delivered piping hot to your apartment door within 30 minutes – and the plastic dishes and cutlery can just be left outside your door when you’re done, to be picked up by the eatery who will wash and reuse it.

It’s the sort of convenience which means you never really need to take your dry-cleaning out, because they pick it up and drop it off all from your apartment.

It’s the sort of convenience which means that almost anywhere in the cities, you can get a bowl of piping hot noodles, soup and fish cake (called o-deng) at almost any time of night from one of the many ‘fast food restaurants’ (fast because they make simple dishes very quickly, not because it’s shit like KFC or McDonalds), for a very reasonable price.

While I have actually blogged my mother’s recipe for jja-jang myun before, one of my lovely readers requested a recipe for tang su yuk (Korean sweet & sour pork) so it made sense for me to blog the two dishes together since they are usually ordered and enjoyed alongside each other. Whilst both dishes originate from their Chinese equivalents, the way they’re made in Korea very much reflects the way that we do things and the flavours that we enjoy.

Living in Australia now, it means that when I’m feeling lazy and like I can’t be bothered for dinner, I resort to things like bruschetta or toasted sandwiches (or even just cereal). But when I make this dish then it takes me back to when I was back in Korea, sitting on the floor and surrounded by my siblings and cousins, all of us slurping these rich, saucy noodles, chatting and laughing with black bean smiles.

Do note that the recipe below makes a RIDICULOUS amount of sauce (about a large wok-full) and will serve abut 6 adults. You could halve if if you must…but the sauce freezes really well, so any leftovers can be put into zip lock bags in single serves and reheated in the microwave whenever you feel like fast food, Korean style :)

Jja-jang myun
(wheat noodles in sauteed black bean sauce)

Ingredients (makes enough sauce for 5-6 serves)
2 large carrots (approx 1.5 cups of diced carrot
2 medium onions (approx 1.5 cups diced onion)
2 medium potatoes (approx 1.5 cups diced potato)
500g lean pork (approx 1.5 cups diced pork)
2 cups diced cabbage
1 tbsp grated ginger
3-4 cups water
salt & pepper, to taste
2/3 cup jja jjang (Korean black bean paste) *
2 tbsp potato starch, stirred into 2 tbsp water
2 packets wheat noodles

If you want to add zucchini (which I often do), reduce the amount to 1 cup diced potato and 1 cup diced carrot and add 1 cup diced zucchini – leaving out the core which will become stupidly mushy once cooked and water the sauce down.

* Please, for the love of all things holy, do NOT substitute this with Chinese black bean paste. This is like substituting paprika powder for Korean chilli powder. Sure, they’re both technically chilli powder, but they are NOTHING alike and cannot be used as a proper substitution.

And if you happen to be someone who substitutes Korean chilli powder with paprika?

You make baby Jesus cry **.

(** This is not meant as an insult to anyone who believes in the little baby Jesus. It’s just an expression of THE SHEER HORROR YOU HAVE CAUSED ME)

1. If you haven’t already (seeing that I kinda specify this up there โ†‘), then please dice your carrot and onion into even pieces that are no more than 1cm x 1cm big (obviously none of us are crazy vegetable chopping machines who can ensure every diced piece is the same…but you roughly want them to be the same size so they cook evenly)

2. Do the same to your potato and pork (in case you have a non-existent memory like I do, this means to dice the potato and pork like you did the carrot and onion, trying to keep the size of the potato like the carrot, but the pork a bit larger since it shrinks when cooked.

It’s a good idea to rinse the potato under cold running water to wash off the starch on the surface. Trust me.

As an aside, is my memory really that bad?

I’ve managed to forget my own birthday twice so far (and I’ve not yet passed 30), and I regularly forget my age and need to work it out by subtracting the current year from 1982.

I’m kinda wondering whether I need to be microchipped in case I ever forget how to find my way home…

3. Season the pork with the ginger, salt and pepper and massage it in with your hands. Set it aside to marinate for about 10 minutes, then make sure that you have all the components of the dish ready to go!

4. Take your washed potato and stir fry it in a wok till BARELY cooked through (you need to be able to pierce it with a fork, but it can’t be soft or mushy). Set the potato aside and do the same with the carrot.


If you ignored my instruction to rinse the potato (or just have a bad memory like me), try cooking the potato, curse loudly as the starch catches on the pan and causes burning. Wail loudly and curse the deities for their cruelty, remove the potato from the wok and mutter under your breath as you zap it in the microwave for a few minutes to cook. Then saute the carrot and set aside with the potato.

5. Saute the onion in your wok till it just starts to become translucent, then add your pork and brown it with the onion. Once the pork is nicely browned, set this aside with the potato and carrot.

6. Add your cabbage to the wok and saute till it becomes translucent, then add the other veg & pork to the wok and stir through to combine.

7. Add your Korean black bean paste and stir through to ensure it’s combined evenly, then slowly pour water over the top till water completely covers the other ingredients. Put the lid on (while using a wooden spoon to leave a gap to stop the mixture boiling over) and simmer till the liquid is reduced by half.

Add the potato starch mixture and stir through then simmer whilst stirring occasionally, till the liquid has thickened. Serve with thin wheat noodles (if you can’t buy fresh Korean wheat noodles, then fresh wheat Singapore noodles can suffice) and some cucumber cut into thin matchsticks.

This dish is also usually served with:

  • Dan mu ji: Yellow picked daikon radish, cut into thin slices
  • Kimchi
  • Raw onion, cut into small pieces and dipped into raw Korean black bean paste

I don’t know if it’s just my family, but whenever we ordered or made jja-jang myun, it was an unspoken rule that we would always order a plate of tang su yuk (Korean sweet & sour pork) to be enjoyed alongside it. Korean sweet & sour pork is very different from the Chinese version – our pork is cut into long strips and covered in a light, thin coating of egg white and corn starch instead of a heavy batter. The sauce should also be almost clear with a very pale golden hue to it – no blinding orange sauce here!

Tang Su Yuk
(Deep-fried pork in sweet & sour sauce)

Pork Ingredients
500g lean pork loin (you can also use a lean cut of beef or chicken thighs)
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 egg white
1 cup potato starch
Salt & pepper, to taste

Sweet & Sour Sauce Ingredients
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 cup water
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp Korean soy sauce
2 tbsp potato starch mixed into 2 tbsp water
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium onion, peeled
1/2 medium red capsicum, deseeded
1 small thin-skinned cucumber
5 pineapple rings

1. Cut your pork into strips about 1cm wide and about 5-6cm long (this is a rough guide, and is just about cooking time and easy of eating).

2. Season the pork with the ginger, salt and pepper, then massage it in. Then, beat the egg white in a bowl and add the pork, mixing to make sure the egg white evenly coats the pork.

3. Add the potato starch to the bowl of pork and stir to mix through. The pork should look dry so if there are still ‘wet’ patches (that aren’t dry and starchy), add more potato starch and mix through again.

Heat some oil in a pot or wok to about 180 degrees C and cook the pork till golden brown, then drain thoroughly.

4. Cut the carrot into thirds (purely to make it easier to maneuver), then cut little wedges out along the edge so it goes from a circle to some sorta flower-ish shape: โ†“

5. Once the carrot is done, cut into slices, then cut the rest of the ingredients:

  • Cut the 1/2 an onion into quarters
  • Cut the capsicum into pieces about the same size as the onion
  • Slice the capsicum into slices about the same width as the carrot
  • Cut the pineapple rings into 8ths (cut into quarters then halve each quarter)

6. Saute all the veggies (except the cucumber) in a small pot with a little oil just to slightly soften, then add all the remaining ingredients (except the starch) and bring to a simmer. Stirring occasionally, once the carrot is mostly cooked (you want it softened but still to retain some crunch), stir in the potato starch mixture and stir continuously till the liquid is thickened.

Once the sauce is done, immediately pour over the pork strips and serve alongside your jja-jang myun :)

For those of you who waited all weekend for me to post my ice cream maker competition…I’m sorry! I just completely ran out of time! However, I’m hoping to put it up by the end of the week so bear with me…please? :)


  1. Though a good dose of white boy chinese goes down well with beer once in a while, I still cringe at the bastardised FLUORESCENT sweet and sour porks that they serve. It really ought to be light so I’m loving yours. And I absolutely adore these type of noodle dishes. Both recipes bookmarked!

    Now to search for Korean black bean paste. I don’t want no crying babies on my hand…
    Karen | C&C recently posted..Braised Cabbage in Balsamic

    • I’m glad to hear that the Chinese version is meant to be light as well – any idea why the Chinese restaurants here usually serve it with the fluorescent sauce?? The sauce can be found at any Korean grocery store, and these days there’s quite a few of them around, so you should be able to track it down pretty easily ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Interesting! I’ve never tried anything like this!
    Maria @ Scandifoodie recently posted..Nut and Seed Bread

  3. i love making jjajangmyun for the family. my kids eat it up! i’ll definitely try your recipe, but one thing that i found works really well is that i dredge the pork in a little potato starch, then stir fry. this give a nice coating and i found i need to add a little less starch at the end to thicken up the sauce. and i can’t wait to make the tang su yuk, right after i convert all the measurements! thanks!!

    • I like your idea about the pork, but I’m so used to my mother’s method of making it that I don’t think I could change now ๐Ÿ˜›

  4. Speaking of breakfast, I still remember when I came back from Philippines for over a month, all I craved were good old poached eggs, bacon, baked beans, avocado and vegemite on toast. This was due to eating rice and noodles for a whole month for brekiie to dinner!
    Adrian in Food Rehab recently posted..Meeting the other side of Poh Ling Yeow

    • LOL!! I know the feeling – I felt exactly the same way after living in Korea for a few years during my teens, the first thing I had when I got back to Australia was toast! :)

  5. I LOVE this post.
    As a person who is currently living in Korea, I can totally relate with so many
    of the things you were talking about. I love all those things about Korea; it
    makes it such a fun and unique place to live.
    My husband and I often frequent the many gimbap shops in our neighborhood!
    I usually order soon-du bu jijae, chamchi bibimbap or doenjang jijae! MmmM!
    Cara Craves… recently posted..Eating my way through the weekend

    • I’m so glad that you and your husband are enjoying your experience over there! :) It’s definitely a unique place to live, and it definitely feels different when you’ve come from living in America or Australia :)

  6. I totally agree re: Asian fast food. I just returned from a trip to China (I know, not Korea, but I’m sure some of the things are similar) and there were so many restaurants that could whip up a quick bowl of noodles or dumplings in no time flat. Why isn’t that available anywhere else? Although they also have KFC and McDonald’s delivery too…
    Vincci recently posted..Tastes New Menu

    • You’re absolutely right – getting noodles or dumplings in Korea is incredibly easy – as well as being MUCH cheaper than getting Western fast food! As for why it’s not available anywhere else, I’d guess lack of demand? ๐Ÿ˜›

  7. Beautiful dishes! Great flavors. I love Asian food, but unfortunately I don’t know much about Korean food.



    • Thanks Rosa :) Korean cuisine has only recently started to gain popularity, in comparison to Thai, Viet, Japanese or Chinese food, but I think that it’s worth finding out about because it’s so tasty :)

  8. Love the carrot tip! Will have to keep this in my “drawer”. love to learn to cook more korean dishes…. also any desserts please? ๐Ÿ˜›
    penny aka jeroxie recently posted..Round up โ€“ International Incident Nostalgia Party

    • Unfortunately there’s no real desserts in Korean cuisine – traditionally after a meal, all that is served is fresh fruit. I’ll see whether my mom can teach me how to make some of the traditional sweet rice cakes, but we haven’t made them in years so I don’t know if she remembers ๐Ÿ˜›

  9. Man I love zhajiang mian! The restaurant I used to waitress at would make a vegetarian version using minced baked tofu that was amazing. I really miss it.
    Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets recently posted..Butter Paneer Curry and Leftover Curry Naan Pizza

    • What a great idea! I think that minced firm or baked tofu would be a great idea of making a vegetarian version of this dish! I do hope to try the Chinese version in the future to see how different it is to the Korean version :)

  10. LOVE this! Thanks for this great post!

    Great blog; happy I found you!

    Mary xo
    Delightful Bitefuls
    Mary @ Delightful Bitefuls recently posted..Asparagus Mozzarella Tart

  11. I honestly do not know much about this cuisine. I’m so intrigued! Thanks for going into detail about each dish.
    Mandy recently posted..Chicken Hash over Creamy Polenta

  12. I was scrambling over to my husband when I started reading this. It’s been 7 long years since we’ve had Jja-jang myun because we didn’t know what it was called. We also were living in Athens, GA, USA (TOTAL hick town) when our friend brought it over to us from a mystical restaurant that he wouldn’t to tell us the name.

    It was in rapture that I read your recipe, especially the “easy” and “freezy” parts. :mrgreen:
    Tiffany recently posted..Automatic vs Stick vs Motorcycle

    • 7 years is a long time to find out the name of a dish!! :) I hope that you give this recipe a try and that it makes the wait worthwhile :)

  13. I agree, some things may have similar names and base ingredients, but are nothing alike. Chinese and Korean blackbean pastes are worlds and cuisines apart!
    Cute little carrots too!
    InTolerantChef recently posted..Cooking En Masse

    • Exactly!! Sometimes substitution is okay, but when the base ingredients that make up the flavour are being subbed, it means the dish will not turn out how it is meant to :(

      And thanks! ๐Ÿ˜› The carrots are always my favourite part of making that dish!

  14. Thanks for the tip of not substituting Chinese Black Bean Paste for the Korean version. I would have made that mistake while shopping

    • My pleasure :) It’s a pretty safe bet that though there are some similarities in Chinese and Korean ingredients, it’s best not to substitute them as there can also be quite stark differences between them!

  15. YUM!!! I love both these dishes!! some dear Korean-American friends & Korean int’l students, in Australia (confused?) introduced me to all this at a Chinese-Korean restaurant in a suburb of Sydney. We also took some Singaporeans — and the battle was funny — the Singaporeans said it’s Korean food, and the Koreans said it’s Chinese.

    I think it must be common to eat jja-jangmyun w/ tang su yuk because they ordered it (plus a similar dish of crispy chicken chunks in a SPICY chilli garlic sweet sauce)

    My favourite part (aside from eating it) is cutting the noodles with the scissors XD

    • It’s definitely the preferred way of eating these two dishes – every Korean I know usually serves them together :) And I agree, cutting the noodles with the chopsticks is a bit of an art but definitely enjoyable :)

Speak Your Mind


Reply New

CommentLuv badge

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
%d bloggers like this: