Spicy Eggplant Ja-Ja-Men Udon

…photos by Tess, food cooked and served by Tess, post design by Tess…



Ja-ja-men is spicy, miso, garlicy, gingery, porky goodness served over udon. It is a Japanese version of spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, and is popular in casual restaurants and a staple of home cooking.

The recipe has history in northern China (Zha jiang mian or Za Jiang Mein) as thick wheat noodles, topped with ground pork fried with salty fermented soybean paste (zha jiang). Some Chinese restaurants refer to the dish as "brown meat sauce noodles"—a translation that does not roll musically off the tongue. Better to use the nickname "Chinese spaghetti" and also note that the Chinese call spaghetti Bolognese "Western zha jiang mian."

The Korean version is called jajangmyeon (자장면; 짜장면) It is made with chunjang, a salty black-colored paste made from roasted soybeans,
diced meat or seafood, and vegetables. It came to Korea in the late 1800's when Chinese migrants began to settle in Korea. After more than a hundred years, it could now be called a national dish.

This article (and others), written in Japanese and translated by Google, indicates that the recipe may have come to Japan in the early 1950’s. Ja-ja-men gained popularity in the city of Morioka as a fast food served at outdoor stalls. The article includes pictures of how to eat ja ja men.

To this day Morioka attracts tourists with local noodles such as reimen, wankosoba, and jajamen. Rei-men, or cold noodles, is a popular dish in Iwate. The cold and smooth texture of the noodles is very tasty. Wanko-soba, which is buckwheat noodles famous for the style of eating in which waiters keep putting a batch of noodles in a bowl without interruption until eaters signal to stop, and jaja-men which is udon-noodles with slices of cucumber and leek and niku-miso (miso paste with meat) on the top.

It's possible that tourists visit Morioka, the capital of Iwate prefecture in the Tōhoku region on Honshū island for reasons other than noodles…

The recipe here is from my latest book, Takashi's Noodles. It is
different from other ja ja men recipes I found online, possibly
because the author is a chef, or perhaps because home
cooks develop recipes to their individual tastes.
Never mind: it is delicious.

Ja-Ja-Men Udon

adapted from Takashi’s Noodles
written by
Takashi Yagihashi

page 72
serves 4

2 cups peeled cubed eggplant (½-inch cubes)
½ cup chopped green bell pepper (½-inch pieces)
(I used a red bell pepper)
½ cup canned bamboo shoots (½-inch pieces)
4 scallions, green and white parts separated

3 Tablespoons sake
2 Tablespoons aka miso (red miso)
2 Tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
6 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons tobanjan (Japanese chili paste)
5 Tablespoons mirin
½ cup dashi
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon water

Pork & Flavors:
2 Tablespoons
vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon
minced garlic
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
8 ounces ground pork
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 pound dry udon noodles

Combine the eggplant, pepper, and bamboo shoots in a bowl and cover with cold water. Soak for 10 minutes, then drain well.
Mince the green part of the onions. Thinly slice the white parts at an angle. Reserve.
Combine the sake, miso, tahini, soy sauce, tobanjan, mirin, and dashi in a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl or cup, mix together the cornstarch and water to make a smooth paste. Set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the pork and minced green scallion. Use a wooden spatula to combine these ingredients with the garlic and ginger. Cook for 3 minutes, then add the vegetables and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the sesame oil and decrease the heat to medium. Cook for 3 minutes longer, stirring constantly to combine well.
Add the sake and miso mixture, and stir well. Add the cornstarch slurry.
Stir thoroughly and cook until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat.
Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.
Add the udon noodles and cook, following the
package instructions. Drain well.
Divide the noodles among
4 plates.

Takashi’s Noodles written by Takashi Yagihashi

A Review of the book From Publishers Weekly
Expertly synthesizing his experience in French, American and Japanese kitchens, James Beard Award-winning chef Yagihashi gives noodle-philiacs 75 inventive, appetizing reasons to drop the take-out and roll up their sleeves. Divided by noodle type (ramen, soba, udon, somen, other Asian noodles and pasta), offerings like sake-steamed chicken with ramen, beef short ribs served with chewy saifun bean threads, and classics like Pad Thai and pho, all showcase the versatility of the simple noodle.

From the book-jacket:
Takashi Yagihashi began his cooking career in mom and pop eateries in Japan, and has since been named Best Chef:Midwest by the James Beard Foundation and one of America’s 10 Best New Chefs by Food & Wine. He opened Takashi’s in Chicago in 2008. He is now in the process of opening Noodle Shops in partnership with Macy’s locations around the country. He is a member of the Macy’s Culinary Council as well as the Japanese Culinary Cultural Association of America. Takashi lives with his family in Chicago.
Information on his site.

…photos by Tess, food cooked and served by Tess, post design by Tess…

13 thoughts on “Spicy Eggplant Ja-Ja-Men Udon

  1. Nice to read about the story behind the food:-) Do you speak any Japanese? That sauce sounds really interesting,as I don¨t eat meat I guess I could use tofu instead of the pork,although the flavour would not be the same.

    • Yes, it’s interesting. A recipe is more than a list of ingredients.

      The only Japanese I speak is names of foods. Even then I don’t pronounce the words properly: when my daughter was visiting she corrected me. LOL

      This recipe is spicy so the meat-flavor is not predominant—it’s the texture.

      If you eat seafood, you might try squid. I have a recipe somewhere here for squid “burgers.” Note that the Korean version of this dish sometimes uses seafood!

      Oh, and thanks for the delayed response about the Finnish food.

  2. I went backwards to see your recipes and in the honeycake posting you asked about some Finnish food. I had not seen that before so answered it now,hopefully it was of some help to you….

  3. I’m really enjoying your clever layout colours and shapes in the revamped blog and the recipes and background of course too!

    • Thank you!
      I’ve discovered html borders, and borders with rounded corners no less. Perhaps I’m going a bit too far with them but it’s like a new toy…


  4. Dear Tess,
    Thanks for your great page on Japanese foods as well as your helps for me on wordpress.com. And I’m sorry that I didn’t check your page at that time. Now, I’m really surprised for knowing you’re a Japanese food lover, since I’m a Japanese living near Kyoto, as you have noticed it from my name. I’ll follow your page from time to time. Many thanks to Tess.

  5. Hello yukio minobe,

    You are sweet to come to my blog to thank me! I was happy to help.

    Kyoto sounds like a wonderful place—I’ve been reading this blog for a long time and it always makes me hungry: http://kyotofoodie.com/ (I’m sure there are other amazing things in Kyoto besides food. LOL)

    I hope you enjoy my blog and find something interesting in it.

    Of course I looked at your site, but didn’t see a place to comment. I was interested in the video you posted:
    Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse by Winds | タコマナローズ橋の風による崩壊
    Though it was a disaster, it is serendipitous that someone was there with a movie camera. These days, of course everyone would be taking pictures and videos. I’ve always thought suspension bridges beautiful. My family and I often drove across the Makinac Bridge when I was a child; we kids always wanted to look down through the grid part of the road because it felt as if we were flying, suspended above the Great Lakes far below.

  6. Hi Tess,

    Thanks for your visiting my site, and sorry for that I haven’t comment boxes so far… Since I’m quite a new for things for the Internet, I might be a bit afraid of what happens there… After improving my materials like yours, I’ll open a comment box!!!

    Your favourite page on Kyoto cuisine is fantastic one even for Japanese people. Yes, Japanese sweets have had a long history and been sophisticated, compared with Sushi, Tempura and Teriyaki. When I was studying architecture in London, I really missed Japanese soy beans paste, 餡こ, which is pronounced as “a-n-ko”. While I could get sushi easily even in London, I couldn’t get 餡こ.

    In addition to sweets, Kyoto is the best place for seeing Japanese Architecture really better than Tokyo: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/japan/kyoto

    As for Tacoma Narrows Bridge, firstly no single human life was lost surprisingly. Now, it’s a really valuable film to understand how artificial buildings behave against natural winds unless we care about the air behaviours. Now, I’m also trying to learn how architecture can improve its performance on natural ventilation along with the nature.

    Anyway, I would write my blog in English as well, so I would be happy if you visit there again!

  7. Hi Yukio!

    (is it proper etiquette? —my greeting above?)
    (I always visit sites if I’m helping to answer questions in the wp forum.)

    Comments on WordPress.com blogs are very safe:
    (at the risk of sounding like a forum volunteer, I’m writing this!)

    You can control which comments are posted:
    Comments —> Disscussion —> Other comment settings —> “Comment author must fill out name and e-mail” (I chose this one) or “Users must be registered and logged in to comment” (signed in to wp) —> PLUS: Before a comment appears —> Comment author must have a previously approved comment
    Also you can control comments with more than 1 or 2 links (often comments with more links are spam).

    And wp.com has a very efficient spam filter: askimet.

    Who are the people you want to read your blog? What do you want to learn from them?

    It is safe and easy to allow people to comment. Sorry, I’m sounding like my wp forum persona.

  8. More interesting to me (and hope not to bore you):

    Yes the link to kyoto foodie is excellent. Perhaps you will find places and restaurants to visit!

    Sorry, but I know anko as red adzuki beans, and also a version with white beans. Soy beans—I haven’t read anything about sweets with soy beans; I think is a language proglem? No worries.

    At any rate, I never see anything here in the American midwest like the Japanese sweets she/he describes in the link.

    Ah, thank you for the link about Kyoto architecture. There are more modern buildings as well? (I used to read a blog from a woman architect in Kyoto. Unfortunately I lost the link in switching to a new computer)

    • Oh yes! Hanukkah! J. is working in Buffalo so we’re not doing much celebrating—latke for one, I don’t need. lol

      The name is funny. Men is noodles (menrue), and ja-ja could be from Korean jajangmyeon. Or from tobanjan.

  9. Pingback: Kimchi Udon « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

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