What comes to your mind when you think “Korean cuisine”? Ten to one, it would be the ever-popular kimchi, bulgogi or bibimbap. (I love all of those!) Or it could be a variety of noodles that make Korea a favorite of noodle lovers.
One lesser known Korean noodle dish — at least to non-locals — is the Jap Chae or ChapChae, a well-loved stir-fried dish that’s made of cellophane noodles and vegetables. Also known as “glass noodles,” Jap Chae was traditionally served as a side dish.
Nowadays, however, restaurants typically make a main course out of it by adding thin slices of beef, chicken, or tofu to the recipe.
This humble dish is present in all the street stalls and noodle shops in South Korea, although there is nothing “humble” about its origin. Jap Chae was invented by one of King Gwanghaegun’s subjects, Yi Chung (or Lee Choong), during the Chosun (Joseon) dynasty as a dish for the king’s party. The king was delighted with it and promoted Yi Chung to one of the highest ranks in the royal court.
Since that time, Jap Chae became a fixture at all the banquets and parties the king held. It eventually became a favorite among ordinary people, especially when cellophane noodles made of sweet potato starch from China became available in Korea later in the 20th century.
To this day, Jap Chae is often associated with celebrations and is very common at Korean parties and special occasions, although now it is also usually prepared as comfort food during rainy days. Personal touches and whatever else that takes the cook’s fancy are manifest in the many forms the dish has come to take — from being garnished with seafood and chili pepper, to mixing vegetables like mushrooms or bean sprouts.
Sure, aside from Jap Chae, there are other noodle dishes that are popular among foodies, like the Makguksu (Buckwheat Noodles with Clear Chicken Soup) where the noodles are seasoned with hot pepper paste, chicken broth and kimchi soup to accompany it.
There is also the Guksu (Wheat Flour Noodles) which is wheat flour noodles cooked and served in an anchovy soup with cabbage kimchi and your choice of garnishing.
These are indeed all excellent dishes, but there’s still something about the homey feel of Jap Chae that keeps locals coming back for more.
So the next time you’re in South Korea and find yourself stranded in the rain, craving for something hot to warm your insides, head over to the nearest noodle shop and bury yourself in the hearty goodness of Jap Chae.