Just as King Gwanghae was reigning the Joseon Dynasty (1575-1641), japchae reigned his heart. The legend goes that the King was hosting a palace banquet when Yi Chung served this dish to the royal king, and he fell in love with it so much, that Yi was promoted to Secretary of Treasury! What is so special about japchae, you ask? Well, here is all you need to know!
Japchae (잡채) comes from two Hanja words 잡 (to mix, stir) and 채(vegetables) i.e. mixed vegetables. In the past, the slaughter of cattle for food was prohibited in accordance with Buddhist beliefs, and Koreans consumed primarily vegetables so the original version of the dish consists of only stir-fried vegetables such as thinly-shredded cucumber, mu (Korean radish), and pyogo mushroom.
Eventually, like many other royal dishes, japchae was immersed in the daily lives of common people as well. Its popularity increased during the 20th century when glass noodles made from sweet potato starch (dangmyeon) made their way into Korean cuisine. The consumption of beef/pork grew as well and both ingredients became a staple of japchae.
The universality of japchae does not stop here! Now one of the traditional celebration dishes, japchae has lots of versions to suit everybody’s taste and can be eaten both as banchan (반찬) or as a main dish! The dish is just as delectable hot or cold, freshly made or leftover from the day before.
Japchae-bap, gochu japchae, buchu japchae, haemul japchae, gyeoja-chae... the list goes on and on and each and every japchae has its unique approach to satisfy your food cravings!
A tempting and very original version of this noodley magic is japchae on a rice-bed (잡채밥), which is garnished with some toasted sesame seeds and chili flakes, and not only extremely delicious but very filling.
If you want to feel like a royalty, try gyeoja-chae, one of the royal court dishes, which is closest to the original version of japchae with stir-fried vegetables only.
Here we can "sea" some creativity with the dish—haemul japchae is made with seafood, like shrimps for example and glass noodles.
The spring taste is recreated with buchu japchae, made with Korean chives, that give a fresh and new twist to the dangmyeon noodles!
In case you crave something spicy, gochu japchae will satisfy your desires with its devilishly spicy fresh green chili pepper and veggies, usually served with some bread or rice, to balance the spiciness and spare your poor tongue.
We know, your stomach must be angry with you by now, but tell it not to worry. There are lots of easy recipes on the internet that can help you make japchae at home very easy!
Choices: hundreds. The true japchae: only one. Served on special occasions, such as weddings, holidays, the first birthday of a baby (돌) or the 60th jubilee of someone (환갑), the classic japchae consists of dangmyeon, stir-fried spinach, carrots, mushrooms and eggs mixed in the perfect ratio with sesame oil, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.
Our mouths water just imagining the sweet and savory taste of japchae. What about you?
Written by Monica Boyadzhieva