If I had to pick one noodle that I could name as my number one comfort food and eat forever and ever, it would be zha jiang mian or “fried gravy noodles”.
It’s a snap to make the sauce and it keeps well in the fridge, meaning bowls of savory, sweet, and savory noodles are ready in a flash.
What is Zha Jiang mian?
Translated, zha jiang mian means “fried spaghetti sauce” in Mandarin and essentially that’s what it is: a bunch of sauces fried together and served topped with noodles. It is originally from Beijing and made with two types of fermented bean paste: ganhuang jiang (fermented yellow soy bean paste) and tianmian jiang (fermented sweet flour and bean paste). These two pastas come together in an AMAZING salty, sweet, punchy and complex sauce.
The ragu is a bit reminiscent of a Chinese bolognese, except it only takes 15 minutes to make. For this version we are going for quick and easy. This zha jiang mian is incredibly delicious even when it’s simplified using easy-to-find Chinese ingredients, the kind you can find at Target. Make a double batch and store it in the fridge—you can add as much or as little sauce to your noodles as you like. If you love noodles and meat sauce, you’ll love this. It’s full of umami flavors, sweet and savory, and tastes like comfort in a bowl. The deep punch of flavors makes up for it but the crunchy, juicy cucumbers and the contrast between the freshness of the cucumbers, the tanginess of the sauce and the chewiness of the noodles will make you want to eat more and more.
Zha jiang mian ingredients
- shallots and garlic – shallots and garlic together are the aromas par excellence. Shallots are sweeter and more tangy yet tender compared to onions and garlic, well everyone knows how awesome garlic is. Simmered in hot oil until soft, the shallot and garlic aromas let you know something good is on the way.
- ground pork – Minced pork is my favorite meat for zha jiang mian because of its sweet pork taste and fat content. It is more tender than using ground beef and has more flavor than ground chicken or turkey. You can use any ground beef you like, but pork is the classic.
- hoisine sauce – Hoisin sauce is a classic Chinese sauce that adds so much flavor. Hoisin is pretty much sold everywhere now, from Target to your basic grocery store, and, of course, online. It is a thick, sweet brown sauce that is used in marinades and as a dipping sauce. It’s super flavorful: sweet, salty, and slightly spicy.
- oyster sauce – this is the secret ingredient that adds a huge amount of umami and seafood flavor to the sauce. more on this below
- dark I am willow — not just your regular soy sauce, more on that later
- sugar – a little sugar adds a little sweetness making this dish loved by both children and adults
- noodles – you will find zha jiang mian served with wheat noodles in Beijing, but you can serve them with any type of noodles you like. If you want to go traditional noodle, look for white wheat noodle in the fridge section of your local Asian grocery store.
- cucumbers – julienned cucumbers add crunchiness and freshness that contrasts with the meaty sauce, highlighting the tanginess of the sauces.
The oyster sauce is sweet, thick and full of complexity. It can be found in the Asian aisle of any grocery store or online. If you see the bottle of Lee Kum Kee with the two people in the boat, choose that. It’s the premium oyster sauce that lists oysters as the first ingredient. The oyster sauce doesn’t taste super fishy, but it definitely adds a zing to this sauce that you won’t be able to put your finger on.
dark I am willow
This is a thicker, darker soy sauce that isn’t as salty as light soy sauce and is mostly used to add a nice color to your noodles, but it also has a caramel note. It is easily found online and in well-stocked grocery stores. You can substitute regular soy sauce if you don’t have fondant, but that’s what gives these noodles their shine.
How to do Zha Jiang mian
- Saute the aromatics. Fry the shallots and garlic in the oil until they are soft and fragrant.
- Cook the pork. Add the ground pork and cook, breaking it up, until browned.
- Fry the sauces. Add the hoisin, oyster, dark soy sauce, sugar and some water and simmer until the sauce thickens and all the flavors blend.
- Mix. While the gravy thins, cook the noodles and drain well. When the sauce is ready, mix a generous portion with the tagliatelle.
- Enjoy. Drink and enjoy with cucumbers and green onions or cilantro!
What kind of noodles?
I love this meat sauce with all types of pasta. Traditionally zha jian mein comes with noodles made from thick wheat flour (look in the fridge section of your local Asian grocery store), but the sauce tastes great with noodles and I’ve been known to mix it with noodles too of rice. Go wild, it’s a tasty, flavorful meat sauce that pairs well with just about any pasta. Try it with:
- Chinese wheat noodles
- rice noodles
- fresh pasta
- lo mein noodles
Usually you’ll see zha jiang mian served with fresh greens, a rarity in Chinese food, but the freshness of the cucumbers goes so well with the super umami meaty flavors – the contrast is just insane. Some other vegetables you can try:
- chopped carrots
- shelled edamame
- Sliced radishes
- bean sprouts
- thinly sliced celery
- chopped cabbage
- green onions
- chopped zucchini
Zha jiang mian versus jajangmyeon
If you’re a fan of Korean food, you’ve most likely eaten jajangmyeon, those super flavorful noodles covered in black bean sauce. Jajangmyeon is a Korean version of zha jiang mian that uses the ingredients they had when globalization wasn’t quite like it is today. Jajangmyeon are noodles covered in a thick gravy made from diced pork chunjang (black bean paste) served with vegetables.
Zha jiang mian vegetarian
If you’re a vegetarian, you can absolutely make this zha jiang mian with tofu. I find extra firm, crumbled tofu to be the best in terms of texture and flavor. Crumbled tofu really mimics ground beef, and ground tofu absorbs all the sauce ingredients perfectly.
Zha Jiang Mian Recipe
- 2 teaspoon neutral oil
- 2 shallot diced
- 4 Cloves garlic chopped
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 2 table spoon hoisine sauce
- 2 table spoon oyster sauce
- 2 table spoon dark I am willow
- 1 table spoon sugar
- freshly ground pepper taste
- 2 portions noodles of choice
- cucumbers finish
- fresh coriander coarsely choppedfinish
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and fragrant. Add the pork and cook, breaking up, until no longer pink. Mix the hoisin, oyster, brown soy, sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Season with pepper.
While the salsa is cooking, prepare the cucumbers and cilantro. I smashed cucumbers and chopped them up, but traditionally cucumbers are julienned.
Cook the noodles according to the package instructions and drain well. Mix with the salsa and serve with cucumbers and cilantro on top. Enjoy now.
Quantity per serving
Calories from Fat 82