Pork cubes cooked in a salty, fragrant sauce, then served with noodles and various vegetables, Zha Jiang Mian is a signature Beijing dish full of flavour and freshness.
Before coming to Europe, I worked in Beijing for quite a few years and I consider it as my second home. In this vibrant city, you have the opportunity to explore amazing food from every corner of China (and increasingly more international cuisines too). However, traditional Beijing cuisine is always treasured by locals and migrants alike . Apart from the famous Peking duck, I love its signature noodle dish Zha Jiang Mian (炸酱面) and often wandered around the back streets to look for humble little cafes which offer the most authentic versions of this dish.
The literal meaning of Zha Jiang Mian is fried sauce noodles. Popular in Northern regions of China, this dish consists of three components: pork fried then simmered in a dark, thick and salty sauce, freshly cooked noodles and various types of vegetable. Among all the different versions of Zha Jiang Mian, I prefer the Beijing style in which yellow soybean paste is used as the main seasoning (sweet bean sauce, hoisin sauce or broad bean sauce are used in other versions).
Yellow soybean paste (黄豆酱) is a dark, thick paste made of fermented yellow soybeans, wheat, salt and water. Pungent, aromatic and salty, it’s the soul of Beijing Zha Jiang Mian. Yellow soybean paste comes in two forms: regular or dry. The latter contains less water, thus it has a pretty solid texture. I use dry paste (干黄酱) in my recipe. Adjust the volume if you wish to use the regular one (about 1.5 times of dry paste diluted with the same amount of water). Yellow soybean paste is available in most Chinese / Asian grocery shops. I usually buy dry paste made by a reputable Beijing brand called “Wang Zhi He (王致和)”. In my recipe, a small amount of sweet bean sauce (or hoisin sauce) is added for a hint of sweetness.
Diced pork is used in classic Beijing Zha Jiang Mian (pork belly or other part that contains some fat). Its small size allows you to cook it in a short period of time, yet it still gives you a nice bite. I’ve seen many recipes call for minced pork. It wouldn’t be my first choice. But it does save me time when I’m in a hurry (no chopping).
Knowing the principle of this dish, you are free to be creative with the ingredients. Why not try beef, lamb or chicken if you don’t fancy pork? And making Zha Jiang Mian a vegetarian dish is possible too. Tofu (firm ones) and shiitake mushroom would be great options.
Vegetables play an important role in Zha Jiang Mian. They are served either raw or quickly blanched, preserving the most of the nutrition. Without any additional seasoning, the natural plain taste of vegetables go very well with the salty, aromatic sauce, giving this dish a good balance. There are a wide range of vegetables that you can choose as topping: cucumber, beansprouts, radish, fresh green soybeans (aka edamame), Chinese cabbage, carrot, celery or any other vegetables with a crunchy texture.
Traditionally, Beijing cooks use homemade noodles in Zha Jiang Mian. Firm dough (made of plain flour, water and a pinch of salt) is rolled flat with a rolling pin, then cut into long, thick noodles. A pasta maker will be handy to achieve a similar result. I usually make hand-pulled noodles (as shown in photos) for this dish which also has a thick look and a slightly chewy texture. Shop-bought dried noodles are fine too. They are time-saving and stress-free.
If you have a chance to visit Beijing, don’t forget to have a bowl of Zha Jiang Mian in an old Beijing (老北京) style restaurant. Meanwhile, give my recipe a try and enjoy the taste of Beijing in your own home!
Discover other classic Chinese noodle dishes by clicking the links below.