Jajangmyun: The Divine Crankcase Sludge of Korean-Chinese Cuisine
Dear Ms. Cadena:
Is there ever a wrong time for jajangmyun, or jjajangmyeon, chachiangmian or zha jiang mian? The divine crankcase sludge of black bean paste, meat and melted onions is as delicious in August as it is in December, and the hand-pulled noodles that traditionally complete the rest of the dish are not to be despised. Jajangmyun is probably the defining dish of Korean-Chinese cuisine -- the city of Incheon claims the noodles, a turbocharged updating of Shandong-style chachiangmian, as its own, and indeed, the Chinese version you find at Malan in Hacienda Heights, among other places, can seem almost dainty in comparison, like a lesser Medoc up against a 96-point California cabernet. The jajangmyun at the Dragon, still the most important Korean-Chinese restaurant in Koreatown, is very good, and the late-night hangover-helper jajangmyun at Al Bae Ne has its adherents. But although player-haters have been issuing downhill alerts on the place for years, I am loyal to the chewy, pungent, ink-black sludge at the venerable Mandarin House, which is still neck-snappingly good after more than 15 years.