My father eats noodles at least once a week. Like clockwork, at 10:17 a.m., every Sunday morning, I would wake up to the spicy mouthwatering aroma of Shin Ramyun (spicy Korean ramyun noodles).
Actually, my mouth is watering right now thinking about it.
Shin ramyun, though, is really not good for you. God only knows what they put in that little tin-foiled packet of pungent good/bad-ness that magically turns into ramyun gook (soup), but the internets is rife with urban mythology of Warcraft addicts who have actually died from OD’ing on ramyun. So, for years, I have suggested to my Dad that he replace the ramyun noodles with something healthier…to no immediate avail.
When we were little, my father would venture out beyond the packaged ramyun noodles, even beyond his own kitchen, and take me and my little brother out into the city (we were suburbanites). Two kids in the backseat of the Honda hatchback with no mission but to eat his favorite noodles for lunch at the sleepy little Chinese-Korean eatery in K-town. We would often be the only patrons at 11 a.m. (the minute they opened), and my Dad would order two “samsun jjajangmyun”–one for himself, and one to split between my brother and me.
Jjajangmyun is the stuff of K-pop legend. It’s the noodle dish for which all the impossibly beautiful K-pop actresses have the caloric/carb count memorized, because it is their enshrined “cheat meal.” It’s the most frequently ordered item off of Korea’s version of Grubhub–the dish you eat when your boyfriend has just cheated on you, when your mom is giving you crap about your grades, when you’re feeling so fat the only rational thing to do is to eat something extremely delicious (and full of fat).
Made of fried jjajang–thick black fermented soy bean paste–and a deep rich broth (usually from beef or pork), it’s not the type of dish that you can burn off with an hour on the treadmill.
So, when Soe invited me to come to his #noodleholicsparty, I could think of no more perfect recipe to “bring” than jjajangmyun.
Now, the trick for me, of course, is making jjajangmyun vegan. I can guarantee you, there are ZERO Chinese-Korean restaurants in my area that serve vegan jjajangmyun. And in fact, my father would probably scratch his head were I to attempt to order “meatless jjajangmyun,” before his face split in half with a wide, embarrassed grin. “You can’t eat jjajang without meat! You need the meat!”
If it isn’t evident, my father is not vegan.
Ironically, though, my Dad played an incredibly key role in my choice to cut out meat last year. Right after watching all the movies about plant-based diets that zeroed in on the statistical and indisputable proof of the connection between meat consumption and cancer, in early January, my father got very sick. After a routine biopsy, he came down with Sepsis and nearly died. While his body was fighting to survive the sudden onset of poison, we learned that the biopsy came back positive–he had prostate cancer.
To me, that was about as close as it got to a lightning bolt from God. I’m not saying that my father’s illness was the thing that made me go vegan, but it was undeniably one of the primary reasons I am vegan today.
And it’s why I try so hard to veganize Korean food.
Because Daddy likes Korean food.
Luckily, there’s no need to veganize the noodles. Most noodle recipes are, by default, non-dairy (and meatless….). While some noodle dishes call for eggs, most Asian noodles consist of flour, salt, water and possibly oil. In order to give the noodles the requisite “jjeulgyuh” or chewiness, some type of alkaline substance should also be included (enter baking soda, kansui, lye water, etc.).
Non-luckily, handmade noodles are, well, a bitch. Gluten formation is the lynchpin to all noodles, and it only happens when the dough gets beaten around a bit. Whether using a stand mixer, bread machine, or your triceps, developing the requisite gluten is not easy and there will be more losses than wins during your first attempts to make your own noodles. Trust me.
In the end, for my recipe, I settled for knife cut noodles or “kalguksoo.” This is purely because after one solid hour of kneading, my arms started to feel numb and I didn’t have any more upper arm strength to stretch and pull the noodles by hand (not to mention the fact that I’d never done it before…!).
After steeping them in boiling water for about 3 minutes, I was happy to see that they didn’t disintegrate or fall a part even when I fished them out. They were chewy, doughy, and, though a little uneven, quite yummy. In fact, I like to think their unevenness provided more “hooks” for my sauce, so that it didn’t just slide off into a puddle at the bottom of my bowl (which, let’s face it, I would gladly spoon into my mouth-hole without any noodles).
The sauce wasn’t that difficult either. In lieu of big chunks of meat or shrimp, I used some shiitake mushrooms. And, to give the sauce that added depth, I added my Fishy Sauce in lieu of just water or store bought vegetable broth. In the end, it all came together quite beautifully, and I had some for lunch, dinner, and then breakfast the next day (i.e., while I’m writing this post…).
Definitely good enough for binge watching Korean dramas.
And maybe even good enough for my Dad.
You can find the recipe for my jjajangmyun here.
You can find the recipes for all the other amazing noodle addicts who came to the #noodleholicsparty at the following links:
- Pho Ga by Beyond Sweet and Savory
- Vegetarian manchurian with stir fry noodles by Boxofspice
- Alfredo spring pasta by Mylavendarblues
- Beef ragu with pappardelle by Cloudy Kitchen
- Indonesian boiled noodles (mie rebus) by Piquecooking
- Malaysian Laksa with Pumpkin by Vermillionroots
- Chestnut Tortellini & Fettuccine in Sage Cream Sauce by Cuococontento
- Vegetarian Tteokbokki by husbandsthatcook
- Shrimp Scampi with Tagliatelle by Regan Baroni
- Juniper Berry & Barley Noodles with Creamy Chantarelles by North Wild Kitchen
- Duck Noodle Soup by Lindsaysfeast
- Avocado pesto cream sauce with homemade fettuccine noodles by Lyndsey Eden
- Homemade sobs noodles in a lapsang souchong broth with crispy tofu by Twiggstudios
- Malaysian Laksa by Passmethedimsum
- Shanghai Scallion Oil Noodle (Cong You Ban Mian) by Omnivorescookbook
- Oak-Smoked Pasta Cacio e Pepe by Harvest and Honey
- Noodle in Burmese coconut and chicpea broth (Oh- no-khao-swe) by Lime and Cilantro
- Aceh noodles (Mie Aceh) by Whattocooktoday
- Persian Noodle (Reshteh) by Noghlemey