Happy (er?) Black Day! Eat some jajangmyeon!
(Photo from Yu’s Mandarin in Schaumburg, IL)
In South Korea, April 14th has become known as Black Day - an informal tradition for single people to gather together to lament their solitary state. After all, the last two months have probably been tortuous watching couples go ga-ga over each other during Valentine’s Day on February 14th (when women buy men gifts) and White Day on March 14th (when the men return the favor).
You’d think that this was a depressing affair - dressing in black, crying, sharing short stories written about unrequited love that end in ambiguous allusions to suicide, and listening to the Korean equivalent of Fiona Apple’s Tidal (no, I didn’t just describe Valentine’s Day 1996…).
Not so! Those Koreans really know how to make the most of their misery. Check out this quote from this Reuters article from 2008:
“I had a miserable time on Valentine’s Day, felt even lonelier on White Day and now I’m crying over a bowl of black noodles,” said a young women who asked only to be identified by her family name Na out of embarrassment.
“Things better be different next year.”
Okay, so they really do dress in black, and sometimes there is crying. But there is at least good food! All the single ladies and gents commiserate over bowls of thick, chewy wheat noodles in a viscous sauce of black bean paste, onions, and meat - jajangmyeon, a Korean-Chinese dish originally from the Shandong province in China and later popularized by Chinese migrants to Korea. The seemingly bland dish is often served with punchy accompaniments of rice vinegar, raw onions, and pickled radish - kind of appropriate symbolism for this whole sour wallow-in-my-singleness business.
Anyway, jajangmyeon is one of my favorites in Korean food, and I would gladly eat a bowl any day, no matter my Relationship Status. In the Chicagoland area, check it out at Yu’s Mandarin (while you’re there, order the jjampong too). In the Twin Cities, they have it at Hoban (warning: it’s blech there - noodles were all wrong, totally no taste), Dong Yang (my go-to for Korean, but I’ve never had the jajangmyeon there), and some Chinese restaurant in some random stripmallish area that my friend took me to, but I can’t remember at the moment (will update later).
(EDIT: Thanks to Heavy Table for the link and pointing out that the restaurant I could not recall is, in fact, Lucky China in West St. Paul. Check out their piece on Lucky China’s hidden Korean menu.)
Nan Zhou *Hand Drawn Noodle House, Philadelphia, PA
When you are soaked to the bone from the windy, rainy 40-degree conditions in a city that is not your home, this is the definition of comfort. This was also the best meal that I had in Philadelphia - just me and my $5.95 bowl of short rib noodle soup in a divey hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown.
*I know I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth referencing again: how hand drawn noodles are made. Pretty freakin’ rad.
Part 4 in a Tomato Sauce Series: Deborah Madison’s Fresh Tomato Sauce
Well, just in the last three weeks, it went from late summer to a peek at fall to winter and I guess back into late fall. Alas, it is adieu to tomato season and this summer’s fresh tomato sauce series…but not without one more. I’ve made this sauce twice now, and it was a chance to revisit my inherited food mill with tomatoes (the previous attempt was gnocchi, a gummy semi-fail that needs to be rectified soon). As a warning, this is not “hard,” but it’s work. I made the mistake both times of doubling the recipe and tackling 6 lbs. of tomatoes, which meant my arm got a really good workout. It also took forever for the sauce to cook down to a desired thickness. But, damn it’s pure, fresh tomato goodness!
The tomatoes were a tiny bit too acidic for me the first time I made this, so I added 1 tsp. of sugar. My second batch was a little weak on flavor so I pumped it up with some balsamic vinegar before reducing, per Deborah Madison’s suggestion. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone proves once again that this is one of the best cookbooks ever, both practically and pedagogically. Simple, healthy, and delicious recipes every time.
Fresh Tomato Sauce, from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Put tomatoes in a heavy pan with the basil. Cover and cook over medium high heat. The tomatoes should yield their juice right away, but keep an eye on the pot to make sure the pan isn’t dry. You don’t want the tomatoes to scorch. When the tomatoes have broken down about 10 minutes, pass them through a food mill. If you want the final sauce to be thicker, return it to the pot and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until it’s as thick as you want. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the oil.
- 3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, quartered
- 3 T. chopped basil or 1 Tb chopped marjoram
- Salt and freshly milled pepper
- 2 Tb. extra virgin olive oil or butter
- Balsamic vinegar (optional)
- Sugar to taste (optional)