Japchae (jabchae, chapchae or chapchee) is a sweet-salty Korean stir fried noodle dish that uses dangmyeon, a thick and extra chewy cellophane (glass) noodle.
While japchae is classified today as a noodle dish, its earliest form did not contain noodles at all. Originally, japchae was a stir fried mixed vegetable dish.
A short history of japchae
17th century Korea. It was the reign of Gwanghaegun, the 15th king of the Joseon dynasty. As a bit of trivia, the popular Netflix series Kingdom took place during the Josean era, a few years after the Japanese invasions between 1592 to 1598. Gwanghaegun reigned from 1608 to 1623. Based on the timelines, Gwanghaegun would be the king at the time the zombie plague in Kingdom. But let’s not mix up history with fiction, right?
So, Gwanghaegun was king and he had a court favorite, Yi Chung, who liked to regale the king with unusual dishes (what a suck-up, if you ask me, but that’s how to stay alive in the royal court). One time, there was a banquet and Yi Chung presented the king with japchae (“jap” means to mix; “chae” means vegetables), a dish of mixed vegetables and mushrooms.
The king loved the dish so much, japchae became a favorite dish at the royal court, and Yi Chung was promoted to a high-ranking position — the equivalent of the Secretary of Treasury (a suck-up, I told you).
The popularity of japchae spread to the masses, and it became a dish served at festivities and celebrations. Noodles weren’t added until the 20th century.
Tips for cooking japchae
The trick to make japchae is to cook the ingredients in segments.
Start by boiling and draining the noodles, then tossing it with the sauce. By doing this ahead of all the other steps, you give the noodles ample time to soak up the flavors in the sauce.
The next part consists of seasoning the beef. Very thinly sliced beef. Only two ingredients to season the meat. Rice wine and soy sauce. You leave the meat to marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
This is the part where I blanch the spinach, squeeze out the excess water and roughly chop the leaves. The carrot and bell pepper are julienned and the shiitake caps are thinly sliced.
One last ingredient to prep before stir frying is the the egg. Beat some eggs, pour into a pan, slide onto a cutting board, roll up and thinly slice.
Then, the stir frying begins. The marinated beef goes into the wok first. When done, scoop out. Add more oil and stir fry the julienned vegetables and shiitake. Scoop out, add a bit more oil and stir fry the spinach with toasted sesame seeds.
After that, you stir fry the noodles with sesame seeds, add all the other stir-fried ingredients and toss until everything is heated through. Finally, you add the strips of egg to garnish.
Japchae: Korean Stir-fried Cellophane (Glass Noodles), Beef and Vegetables
For the sauce
- 6 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 6 tablespoons sugar
The noodles and meat
- 250 grams dangmyeon dry weight
- 300 grams thinly sliced beef
- 2 tablespoons rice wine
For the vegetables
For stir frying
- 2 eggs
- toasted sesame seeds
- Start by making the sauce. Stir all the ingredients together until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Boil about a liter and a half of water in a pot. Drop in the noodles, pressing them down into the hot water. When the water starts boiling once more, lower the heat, cover the pot and let the noodles simmer for seven to eight minutes.
- Drain the noodles and dump into a bowl of iced water. This will stop the cooking and prevent the noodles from turning soggy. Let the noodles sit in the cold water for a few minutes then drain once more.
- Pour half of the sauce over the noodles and toss to distribute evenly. Leave to allow the noodles soak up the flavors.
- Cut the beef into strips about half an inch thick. Place in a bowl. Pour in the rice wine and the remaining sauce. Mix well.
- Julienne the carrot and bell pepper.
- Thinly slice the onion and mushroom caps.
- Cut the scallions into one-inch lengths.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs with salt and pepper.
- Heat one teaspoon of cooking oil in a clean pan. Pour in the beaten eggs. Cook until set. Roll up and move to a chopping board. Slice thinly.
- Heat another teaspoon of cooking oil in a wok. Mix the beef once more to make sure that all the sauce sticks to it. Spread on the hot oil. Sprinkle in half of the minced garlic. Stir fry for four to five minutes. Scoop out and move to a bowl.
- Heat another teaspoon of oil in the wok. Add the carrot, bell pepper, mushrooms, sliced onion, scallions and the remaining minced garlic. Sprinkle in salt and pepper. Stir fry for about two minutes. Scoop out and move to a plate.
- Heat the fourth teaspoon of oil in the wok. Spread the blanched and squeezed spinach leaves on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in salt, pepper and a teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds. Stir fry for a minute. Scoop out and transfer to a bowl.
- Heat the last teaspoon of cooking oil. Dump in the noodles. Sprinkle in a teaspoonful of toasted sesame seeds. Stir fry until the noodles are heated through.
- Add the stir fried vegetables to the noodles. Toss to distribute evenly.
- Add the beef and remaining teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds to the noodles and vegetables. Toss to distribute.
- Garnish the japchae with the egg and more toasted sesame seeds.
If you cooked this dish (or made this drink) and you want to share your masterpiece, please use your own photos and write the cooking steps in your own words.