Our dear Chinese-American Mash-Up Peter Lee grew up working and dining in his family’s Chinese restaurants in Ohio. His maternal grandparents hailed from Northern China and immigrated to Taiwan, where his mother grew up; his father is Sichuanese. Peter grew up eating (and loving) traditional Chinese food at home in Columbus. But teaching Ohioans to eat traditional Chinese food is another story.
In 1983, when my parents opened their first restaurant, Hunan House, they served General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour chicken, kung pao chicken, and basically every other version of Americanized chicken that they could. There weren’t a lot of Chinese people in Columbus, or a big market for Chinese food. But my parents wanted to slowly introduce Columbus to more authentic Sichuanese, Hunanese, and Taiwanese cuisine.
One key dish was Chinese noodles with meat sauce, or ja-jang-myun [Editor’s note: Amy grew up eating ja-jang-myun at the Korean-Chinese restaurant her parents favored in the Chicago suburbs. She always thought it was a Korean thing. Peter says this is the “real” ja-jang-myun.]. We always ate it at home, and it was a really communal, fun family dish. So we put ja-jang-myun on the menu at the restaurant, but nobody was ordering it.
My parents pushed it and pushed it to customers but nothing worked. So eventually, they changed the name on the menu to Chinese Spaghetti, and pretty quickly it was one of the most popular items at the restaurant.
Ingredients for Meat Sauce
- 1.5 lb ground pork mixed with 3 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp corn starch, 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Let sit for at least 1 hr in the refrigerator.
- 1 16- oz can Szechuan Sweet Bean Sauce
- 1 6- oz can Szechuan Hot Bean Sauce or la do ban jian
- 1 large tomato chopped
- ½ large sweet yellow onion
- 1 scallion chopped
- 3 cups water no-sodium chicken broth, or other rib or bone stock
- A dash of white cooking wine or shiao xin
- sugar to taste
- soy sauce to taste
Ingredients for Pickled Mustard Greens with Ground Pork Topping
- 1 package pickled mustard green rinsed, cut into small dice
- ¼ lb pork mixed with 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp corn starch, 1 tsp vegetable oil. Let sit for at least 1 hr in the refrigerator.
- 3 serrano chilies chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 scallion chopped
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- dash of white cooking wine
- fresh ground black pepper to taste
- dash of sesame oil
Noodles and Toppings
- Any type of Asian noodles egg, udon, rice you like, and as many as you’d like to eat! Buy fresh in Chinatown or prepare according to package directions.
- 1 seedless cucumber shredded
- bean sprouts blanched in boiling salted water, shocked in ice water, and drained
- scrambled eggs
- cilantro chopped
- green onion white segments, julienned
- green beans shredded, blanched in salted water, shocked in ice water, and drained
To make the Meat Sauce
- In a hot oiled wok, brown the marinated pork and scallion, reduce to medium high heat and cook until about done.
- Add onion and stir fry until onions are tender.
- Add a dash of white cooking wine and tomatoes.
- After a few minutes, add the sweet bean sauce, diluting it with a bit of hot water in the can.
- Then swirl in the hot bean sauce, and water or stock.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook uncovered for at least an hour until the sauce reduces, stirring occasionally.
- Adjust seasonings with sugar and soy sauce to taste.
- Remove from heat and serve warm or room temperature.
To make the Pickled Mustard Greens with Ground Pork Topping
- In a hot oiled wok, stir fry serranos and garlic until fragrant.
- Add pork until it is well done and brown.
- Add the mustard greens and sugar for a few minutes.
- Add soy sauce, cooking wine, black pepper and sesame oil.
- Remove from heat, sprinkle scallions on top, and serve alongside the noodles and meat sauce.
- Cook noodles according to package directions.
- Pile everything on top of the noodles as you like, and enjoy!