I deliberately keep ‘Zhajiang’ in its original Chinese. It is not for drawing your attentions upon an unknown name although you might have already come across the name and have an idea about it. Anyway, you can easily see that ‘Zhajiang’ could be the sauce for the noodle. Yes, you are absolutely right.
However, unless you had one of this Beijing noodle before, I mean a proper homemade one or at least in a specialist Zhajiangmian restaurant but definitely not a cheaper commercial version, you might have the same respectful thought as mine for this glory, time-honoured salty, sweet and meaty sauce which brings up an ordinary noodle to such tasty level for such a long history. It deserves its Zhajiang Name.
When it comes to translate food name or cooking method that has not yet existed in another country or region, I believe that the best way is keeping it as what is named in its original. Even if, there is no language barrier in the same country, translation/interpretation or explanation is in vain same as to tell a colour-blinded person of what is ‘red’ in reality.
By adopting an equivalent word or a phase from listener’s vocabulary for translation indeed kills the soul of the food that you are talking about. It is not surprisingly that Chinese ‘Chaofan’ has been translated as ‘Fried rice’ and I sometimes saw a Western celebrity chef making it with steaming hot rice and fashioned with a drizzling of sesame oil at end in the way of ‘stir fry’ for his ‘fusion’ rice which I have great doubt about the taste in fact the edibility notwithstanding the chef’s own persuasive facial expressions.
English vocabulary in term of food and cooking borrowed a lot of words from French as well as recipes It is inevitable that made French cuisine’s fame and well respected. So you can see nothing can make yourself so proud of than people calling the food’s name in your own language and asking for more.
Ok, what on earth is Zhajiang then?
It is cooked yellow soybean paste sauce. First of all, the yellow soybean paste is a fermented paste made from cooked yellow soybeans, wheat, and salt. The fermentation process takes months for the beans to be perfectly mature owing to the different seasons the colours of the paste turn out quite different range from light to dark brown or even black. The premier yellow soybean paste is the one matured during the spring season in February and March which has an amber colour and soft with unified consistence. You can find them from your local Chinese store.
Secondly, it is the way to cook the sauce that creates its special flavour. There is a golden rule when you make the sauce “小碗干炸” literarily means “cooking the Small amount of paste at once and using cooking oil as less as you can”. Usually, yellow soybean paste is cooked with skinless pork belly that finely chopped into small dices by hand. It cooks on low heat for about 30 minutes. During the cooking, the soybean paste penetrates into diced pork with fermented sweetness and salty as the same time, the juice from the meat infuses the paste to enhance its nutty flavours.
The perfect sauce should have the perfect noodle accompanies same as to another way around. The noodle must be handmade and freshly rolled flat one because the flat surface can maximise touching of the sauce and easier to twist with garnishes for an even mixture.
Beijing Zhajiangmian Beijing Zhajiang Noodle
500 g strong flour (gluten and protein content>10)
150 g cold water
250 g yellow soybean paste (please do not use dry paste)
250 g pork belly finely chopped into 0.5 cm diameter dices
(No mince or machine ground meat please)
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons minced fresh skinless ginger
4 Spring onions using the white parts only, finely diced
Sesame oil for taste
Chilli oil for taste
De-shelled Edamame bean
Finely chopped cedar leaves
Bean sprout (root removed)
Sliced stem lettuce
Quick boiled and chopped long bean
Finely chopped celery
Julienned watermelon radish
The list above is typical garnishes when Beijingnese has their Zhajiangmian in different seasons.
- Mixed flour and water into dough rest for 30 minutes
- Knead the dough till its surface become smooth.
- Divide the dough into four equal pieces and roll each piece into a 0.3cm-thick sheet.
- Fold the sheet in a zigzag way and make cuts at 0.5 cm intervals.
- Bounce and loosen strands, cover them with cling film to avoid drying out.
- Heat a sauce pot on medium heat and add cooking oil.
- Put ginger into pot cook for 20 seconds then add the diced pork.
- Turn to low heat and cook the pork till you see oil and juice coming out from the meat.
- Add yellow soybean paste and keep stirring for about 20-25 minutes until all the moisture evaporates.
- Add sugar and spring onions.
- Cook for another 3 minutes.
Boil a big pot of water and cook the noodles until done.
At this moment I bet you won’t read this anymore. But one thing and the last one is to have a bowl hot water of which boiled noodle previously alongside your Zhajiangmian.