Before anything else, today is Chow Down Atlanta’s birthday. You. Each and every one of you made this possible and I’d really like to thank you for all your support. For stopping by, reading, commenting, even hating — well, I think I only “angered” two or three of you so that’s good. You made this past four years so much fun. I’ve met so many good people, made so many new friends, and ate my weight in food (which is what I’ve been doing all my life anyway). I’m still here. And so are you. Thank you.
Did you know? There’s a Chinese tradition of eating noodles on your birthday because noodles symbolize long life. What better way to celebrate my birthday than to have a noodle post. Here’s hoping there will be more years of CDA. Cheers!
I grew up eating noodles of every kind. Noodles when you are a kid are so much fun: slurping noodles from end to end, one noodle at a time, was the ultimate child’s play for us on the dining table. Italian and Asian noodles are both comfort food to me. One particular Asian noodles that I really like is the Chinese Ja Jiang Mein: noodles in brown sauce (or black sauce as I’ve called it). There are many variations of the sauce but basically, ground meat, sweet fermented soy beans, and hoisin are used. When I was 17, I discovered the savory Korean version, Jjajangmyeon, and all I could say then was wow. This past summer, I had a Jjajangmyeon phase. I went to all the places in the city that had it and ate my weight in Jjajangmyeon. I’m still eating it at least once a week.
Before I tell you where to find the best bowl of jajangmyeon here in Atlanta, here’s a guide to deciphering all the different types of jajangs you’ll find on the menu. The following are the prefixes you’ll see preceding the word Jajangmyeon.
Yuni (유니) – this sauce consists of finely minced meat and finely diced vegetables without starch. Almost always freshly prepared and not offered at all places
Gan (간) – doesn’t have starch, which means the sauce will be thick like gravy. Unlike the regular jajang sauce which sits in a big pot heating away, this one is usually freshly stir fried in the wok to order
Samseon (삼선) – has seafood like squid, shrimp, scallop, sea cucumber or any combination of in the sauce
Jaengban (쟁반) – means the jajang comes premixed on a platter (jaengban means a platter) and the sauce usually consists of starch
Gochu (고추) – has chili peppers in the sauce so it’s a bit spicy
In Atlanta, there are a quite a few places that make their noodles in-house. Some even hand-pull them. Here are the best places I went to over and over again.
My favorite place. The best place for Jjajangmyeon in the city, hands down, is Sam Won Gak. I was almost reluctant to feature this restaurant because I wanted to keep it for myself. But I decided to spread the love. I have been here literally countless of times. The beautiful yellow noodles here are homemade. They are chewy, stretchy, and perfectly sticky. I eat two kinds of jajiang here. Both are phenomenal. The Yuni Jajiang is what I mostly eat because of its intense, wake-up-your-senses, bold black bean flavor. The black bean sauce is so savory, smoky, thick, and chunky, with lots of minced pork and veggies. The sauce is served separate from the noodles and you’ll have to mix them up yourself. Don’t dump the entire bowl of sauce into the noodles. Add as appropriate so you can control the flavor and saltiness.
The regular jajangmyeon here is fantastic. It is similar in taste to the yuni above but the sauce is starchier, stickier, and thicker.
The jaengban jajaiang is equally delicious. It’s a platter of noodles with the sauce already mixed in. It’s starchy, has a teeny-tiny hint of sweet, and a very smoky flavor. The soybean paste taste is slightly muted here than in the yuni.
If you want the best jjajangmyeon in the city then don’t go anywhere else. This blows away any and all places in town.
The Rest (because the rest just don’t compare to the best):
Although the noodles aren’t homemade, Ching Mei, a Korean-Chinese place inside Nukoa Plaza has good jajangmyeon. Their $5.99 huge bowl of Jajangmyeon has a sauce that’s quite good and thick. A good option if you’re in the area.
The yuni jajangmyeon here is smoky but not as black beany as I want it to be. It’s still good and the sauce is concentrated enough that you can taste the black bean paste.
The regular jajangmyeon here is actually decent. The noodles are chewy and the sauce has enough flavor and smokiness to it. Avoid the gochu jaengban jajang here at all cost as it is sweet and the black bean taste is almost nonexistent.
This Korean-Chinese place claims to use handmade noodles. The yuni jajangmyeon here is a little on the sweet side, thanks to the dash of hoisin they use on the sauce. It’s good but not as flavorful as the other places in town. And I can’t get past the sweetish taste. The version here is more Chinese than Korean so if you prefer that then this is your place.
Their jaengban jajang uses the same sauce but it just comes premixed. Overall not my favorite place for jajangmyeon.
Man Chun Hong uses homemade “well-being” noodles, which have herbs mixed in the noodles to give it a dark green color. Although their noodles are made in house and hand-pulled, the sauce has little taste and the presence of the black beans is surely missed. The jajiang sauce is okay but coupled with the forgettable noodles, it just doesn’t do it for me.
So there. If you’ve never had jajangmyeon then you must really try it. Beats the regular ho-hum Chinese and Thai noodles we’re so accustomed to. Go now!