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Searching for Northern-style zha jiang mian

I'd appreciate it if you kind folks would listen to my very, very picky request. :)

I'm looking for zha2 jiang4 mian4 (bean sauce/pork noodles) in the East Bay, and I'm trying to find a version that lives up to the kind I inhaled in my grandparents' house in China by the bowlful. It must be the traditional Beijing/Shandong style--a salty black bean sauce, not the sweet red version--with good (preferably hand-made) noodles and the requisite cucumber slices.

I began my search at QQ Noodle in Fremont, #3 on their menu for anyone familiar with the place, and I was frankly disappointed. While their hand-pulled noodles were 5-star for texture and taste, the zha jiang sauce itself was...bland. Not unpleasant, but bland. Zha jiang, as I've had it, is an aggressive, in-your-face affair. It's traditional Chinese peasant food, and my favorite version can by no stretch of the imagination be "delicate" or "subtle". It's salty, savory, bold, and the flavors attack your mouth. Less than a cup or so of the intensely black sauce (the flavor coming from strong salted black beans) should suffice to barely coat a huge bowlful of noodles, yet the flavor should still be full and sharp. Ideally, only pork, no seafood, should function as the meat component. Nothing gloopy or soupy, zha jiang should be a condensed explosion of taste.

But I digress into drooling now. :) I know it's always a tall order to demand a restaurant that can meet memories of divine home cooking, but can anyone offer a suggestion? Browsing the boards, the last topic was in 2001 (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/1711...) and I think I might hit up China Village to taste test their version.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. There are many, many more posts on zha jiang mian (oft abbreviated here are ZJM) than 2001. I reported on ZJM a few days ago. Here's a search for "zha jiang mian" and "black bean",
    http://chowhound.chow.com/search?sear...
    (note: not always referring to black beans in the sauce).

    China Village doesn't use black bean sauce in its version, unless something has changed recently. You might check with Shan Dong in Oakland --- good handpulled noodles there, don't remember the ZJM specifically. You might also want to be sure to special "gan" ZJM when you order it if you want to avoid soupy versions.

    1. While I can't vouch that the following places make it same way as you've had it in China, they will probably be the closest you'll find, especially considering that you didn't like QQ's version (which is actually from China) - which I also thought the sauce lacked the ZJ sauce flavor.

      The restaurants below are all run by Shandong folks by way of Korea (also known as the Korean-Chinese style) as they brought ZJM to Korea and popularized it there.

      In East Bay, I like Palace Chef in Fremont. I know there are several more places in Berkeley and Oakland, but I've not been to too many of them. Great Wall in Berkeley's version was not that good.

      In south bay, I like Four Seasons in San Jose/Cupertino. It is one of the best versions I've had. Both here and Palace Chef uses 100% hand-pulled noodles. (Although I've seen reports saying Four Seasons no longer does it 100%)

      If you also want to try the more traditional "rou muo" (ground pork) version, then you have to go to Mountain View for Cafe Yulong.

      One more tip: When available, always ask for the "Gan Zha Jiang Mian", as this is more closely resembling to the traditional style, than the more Koreanized regular "Zha Jiang Mian"

      There are many more, you can find them on my blog:
      http://eat.tanspace.com/?s=zha+jiang+...

      1. Have you already tried the gan zza zang at Yuyu's or Koryo (formerly Yet Nal Za Zang), both on Telegraph in Oakland? Yuyu's is Chinese owned, Koryo is Korean-owned.

        I'm Korean and also grew up on zazang myun, as well as other Northern/Mandarian Chinese food. I've had the gan zazang myun at Yuyu's, Koryo, Shan Dong in Oakland and Shan Dong in S/F, but I like Koryo's the best. However, many Koreans prefer Yuyu's.

        Yuyu's
        3919 Telegraph Ave
        (between 39th St & 40th St)
        Oakland, CA 94609
        (510) 653-2288

        Koryo
        4390 Telegraph Ave, Ste B
        (between 43rd St & 44th St)
        Oakland, CA 94609
        (510) 652-3900

        Hope that helps!

        10 Replies
        1. re: cvhound

          Unfortunately I have not tried those places yet. Thanks for the info. I think there was also a place called Happy Family in Oakland, not sure if they're still around. I believe Shen Hua in Berkeley is another Korean-Chinese place.

          Shan Dong in Oakland Chinatown is actually run by Shandong from China - so they may be "closer" to the Beijing version than the Koreanized version.

          San Tung in SF's version is not very good.

          1. re: cvhound

            Oops, thanks for catching my mistake, Tanspace. I of course meant to say Shan Dong in Oakland and San Tung in S/F. I thought the version at San Tung was better than the one at Shan Dong, but neither were ones I'd order again.

            I've never heard of Happy Family, although there used to be a Chinese restaurant across the street from Koryo that used to serve zza zaang myun. However, that restaurant is long gone.

            It's been years since I've eaten at Shen Hua. I used to get dragged there by my classmates while attending grad school at Cal. I hadn't heard that it was owned by Korean-Chinese. I know it's popular, but it's a bit too "Americanized" for my taste.

            1. re: cvhound

              I'd never noticed that Shen Hua had zha jiang on its menu, but they do:

              http://menuscan.com/menu_popup.php?r_...

              Too Americanized for my taste, though to appeal to the Berkeley market they use good ingredients and cook them properly.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                If anything, Chinese restaurant owners are great at adapting. That's how the Shandong Chinese who went to Korea adapted their cuisine so that it became popular in Korea. I think Shen Hua has done another metamorphosis when they opened in Berkeley to add the Americanized adaptation to their menu as well.

                A couple of tell-tale items on the menu tells me it is Shandong:
                The Seafood Salad in the appetizer section - it is actually the "infamous" double-skin, or "liang zhang pi" dish that it is commonly found in Shandong restaurants.

                Spicy Dry Fried Chicken - this is the famous Gan Pong Chicken dish that everyone loves at San Tung and other Korean-Chinese restaurants but may not be aware of its real name.

                And the additional Zha Jiang Mian and Seafood Noodle Soup (Chao Ma Mian) items pretty much confirms to me that it is a Shandong place.

                But obviously they've adapted and added Americanized items as well. Just look at Fortune Cookie post that Melanie wrote about. To adapt is to survive.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/551235

                Come to think of it, San Tung in SF is also catering to both Americanized as well as Koreanized food (which the Koreanized side is suffering because of it

                )

                Hopefully as more folks become accustomed to the original Shandong dishes, this trend can be reversed so that we get more authentic Shandong restaurants such as the way we have many authentic Sichuan and Shanghai restaurants.

                1. re: tanspace

                  Sheesh, I'd have no idea from the English description "a light mixture of prawns, scallops, calamari and mussels tossed with a hot Chinese mustard sauce" that the dish was anything like "double skin."

                  Do they have zam pong hidden in there someplace as well?

            2. re: cvhound

              Yuyu / Chef Yu's is Chinese? They have signs in Korean, the Korean portion of the menu reads pretty much exactly like other Korean zazang places, and the zam pong was similar, so I assumed they were Korean.

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/528834

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I think they're Chinese who came from Korea, not ethnic Koreans, but please don't quote me on that.

                I grew up in Houston and as naiive as this sounds, until I went away to college, I never realized Chinese restaurant owners didn't all speak Korean, b/c all the ones we knew spoke fluent Korean! My parents later explained that these Chinese people immigrated from Korea, but weren't ethnic Koreans.

                There's actually a formal Korean term used to describe these Chinese-Koreans.

                1. re: cvhound

                  That's right. Chef Yu's Chinese from Shandong. The fact is there are tons of places like this in the bay area, and mostly only the Korean folks and some Chinese folks (mainly from Shandong) know how to distinguish them. Koreans will be less often found eating at Cantonese places or other types of Chinese restaurants, but they will seek out and frequent these Shandong style Chinese restaurants since to them, this is "real" Chinese food.

                  So since Chef Yu's caters to more Koreans, you'll find Korean characters all over the place - on the other hand, a place like Shen Hua, which tries to be more "mainstream", gets mistaken for being too Americanized - of which I'm sure there's still a large population who loves this style.

                  In Korean, the term is called "hua keo", from the Chinese "hua qiao", which is a general term meaning overseas Chinese.

                  1. re: tanspace

                    Whether Shen Hua and its spinoffs Kirin and Ching Hua are "too" Americanized is a value judgment, but they're all in neighborhoods where the business is necessarily mostly about catering to non-Chinese customers.

                    They might do well to add a "Shandong specialities" section to the menu.

            3. It has been a while but about a year back I enjoyed a very nice smokey version of Beijing style ja jiang mien (with in house non hand made machine cut fresh noodles) at Everyday Beijing in San Mateo.

              1 Reply
              1. re: K K

                I like Everyday Beijing's version too. However, it's not made with black bean sauce.

              2. Old Mandarin Islamic SF, per their takeout menu has a Beijing Ja Jiang Mien (Peking Noodles with Fried Paste) - $6.95. Didn't get a chance to inquire about this when we dropped by for takeout. Anyone had this and can comment on what it is like?