Chinese Spaghetti: AKA, How Chinese Restaurateurs Got People to Eat Ja-Jang-Myun

By Peter Lee

To this canvas, an artist adds pork, pork, and pork.

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.

Chinese Spaghetti Making proper ja-jang-myun will require a trip to Chinatown. And a lot of pork. It will be worth it.
Meat Sauce: Ingredients

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

Preparation

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.

Pickled Mustard Greens with Ground Pork Topping: Ingredients

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

Preparation

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.

Noodles:

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.

Additional Toppings, to serve alongside noodles:

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

Pile everything on top of the noodles as you like, and enjoy!

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