Spicy Korean Noodle Soup (Jjambbong)

Korean Spicy Noodle Soup - Jjambbong

It’s All Asia All Month at LunaCafe. We kicked off the celebration with Asian-inspired Chinese Cracker Jacks, which are such a hit around here that I’m making another batch tonight. Be sure to check back as the adventure unfolds this month.

There was a time in my life that it was not unusual for me to take in three movies in one evening. I timed the showings in advance, so I could race from one Seattle movie house to another and slip into a chair just as the previews were ending. If the timing was perfect, I could score an espresso or two between shows. I can still remember one memorable, caffeine-charged evening that I saw Betrayal, The Grey Fox, and Victor/Victoria back-to-back. All three films were great. I practically floated home.

Korean Fresh Somen Noodles

And as I discovered during this movie crazed period, some of the most memorable movies are subtitled. A Man and A Woman, The Last Emperor, and Cinema Paradiso come to mind. Subtitles are no barrier for this movie addict.

Mincing Fresh Chinese Chives

Thus, with the advent and ease of Netflix, it was inevitable that I would eventually stumble upon Korean dramas. I’ve watched Pasta (twice), Stars Falling from the Sky, Midas, Shining Inheritance, Bread, Love and Dreams, Secret Garden, Full House, Flower Boy Ramen Shop, and probably a couple of others that have slipped from memory. My favorites center on honoring and sharing food (naturally): Pasta; Bread, Love and Dreams; Shining Inheritance; and Flower Boy Ramen Shop.

Fresh Baby Bok Choy

And do you know the one thing that all of these well-crafted serial dramas have in common? Noodles! Bowl after bowl of steaming Spicy Korean Noodle Soup to be precise. People in Korea, as depicted in these dramas at least, eat ramen from morning to night. They eat it when they are happy. They eat it when they are sad. They eat it to celebrate, commemorate, commiserate, and mourn.

Korean Fermented Hot Pepper Paste

And it looks so incredibly GOOD. The broth is sometimes thin and sometimes thick, always with a reddish hue. It’s steaming hot and the noodles are fresh. The things that go into and on top of the soup vary from cook to cook. There are contests to see who can come up with the best new ramen bowl. Seafood is often part of the mix though. And a poached egg poised like a buoyant hat on top. Trust me–you will be drooling before the hour-long episode ends. You might even be tempted to replay the soup scenes.

Adding Korean Spicy Pepper Sauce to Stir-Fry

Out of desperation, I recently bought a case of dried ramen cups from Costco—just to have something to slurp while watching the gorgeous Korean actors eat the real thing.

Soup Broth for Korean Spicy Noodle Soup

But enough of that nonsense. It is high time to cross the ramen barrier and learn to make my own Spicy Korean Noodle Soup, or Jjambbong as it is called in Korea. Luckily, it couldn’t be easier—but it does entail a trip to the local Asian supermarket for a few of the essential ingredients.

Korean Noodle Soup- Jjambbong

If you are in Portland, Oregon, head on over to Fubonn Market and pick up Korean fermented hot pepper paste, fresh Korean jjang noodles, fresh ginger, garlic, Chinese chives, baby bok choy, lemon, fresh prawns, and perhaps Korean coarse red pepper flakes. You probably already have Kikkoman soy sauce, but if not, pick that up too.

Korean Spicy Noodle Soup (Jjambbong)

Spicy Korean Noodle Soup (Jjambbong)

This spicy, red-hued, infinitely variable, magically comforting noodle soup is one of the most popular Korean dishes. It’s great with prawns and other seafood, but also delicious with vegetables only. The soup broth is clean and bright and only moderately spicy as prepared here.

You will find Korean soup noodles, labeled Korean, somen, or jjang noodles, in the fresh noodle section of your local Asian supermarket. They are typically about 1/8-inch in diameter and comprised of only wheat flour, salt, and water. In Portland, Oregon. Fubonn Supermarket and the Beaverton Uwajimaya are reliable sources for these noodles.

Note   If you make Korean Spicy Pepper Sauce and do the minimal ingredient prep ahead, the soup will go together in only a few minutes.

Korean Spicy Pepper Sauce (makes about ¾ cup)
½ cup Korean fermented hot pepper paste (Wang brand is good)
2 tablespoons Kikkoman soy sauce
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons peeled, minced garlic
2 tablespoons peeled, minced fresh ginger

10-12 ounces fresh Korean jjang noodles (from Wang 2.2-pound package)
cold water
2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced Chinese chives (garlic chives/kow choi/nira), or green onions

Veggies & Prawns
2 green onions, trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 large carrot, peeled, halved lengthwise, cut into 2-inch lengths, thinly sliced lengthwise
10 peeled, deveined, fresh, medium prawns, optional (I leave the tails on)
4 baby bok choy, stems trimmed, large leaves halved lengthwise

Sauce & Stock
¼ cup Korean Spicy sauce (from above)
4 cups homemade or canned chicken stock, heated to a simmer

Chinese chives, (garlic chives/kow choi/nira), or green onions
Korean coarse red pepper powder/flakes, optional (kochugaru)

  1. Pepare the sauce. In a medium mixing bowl, combine hot pepper paste, soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger. Reserve. (You will use ¼ cup here and have ½ cup remaining for later use.)
  2. Cook the noodles. Fill a large pasta pot with a perforated insert with cold water, add salt, and bring to a full boil. When the soup base is 2 minutes from completion, add noodles to boiling water and boil for 1½- 2 minutes, no longer Lift the perforated insert from the pasta pan to drain the water and then with a pronged pasta fork, divide noodles between two soup bowls.
  3. Complete the stir-fry. In a flat-bottomed heavy wok or large heavy skillet, heat the oil to sizzling. Add the onions and Chinese chives. Toss to coat with oil and fry for about 1 minute. Add the carrots, toss to coat, and stir-fry for about 1 minute.
  4. If using, add the prawns to the stir-fry, toss to coat, and stir-fry for 1 minute, until they begin to turn pink.
  5. Add ¼ cup sauce and toss to coat the aromatics. Add bok choy. Stir to combine.
  6. Complete the soup. Pour stock over noodles in the bowls and arrange the veggies and prawns on top.
  7. Garnish with Chinese chives and pepper powder, if desired.
  8. Serve immediately. The noodles become spongy (or bloated, as the Koreans describe it) if left to sit in the hot stock for any length of time.

Serves 2.


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  1. says

    I’m SO glad to hear I’m not alone in craving Korean food while watching K-dramas. Food is such a huge part of those shows that I’m constantly wanting Korean barbecue, noodles, etc. I’m totally going to be making this for dinner tonight. 😉
    Alicia recently posted…Angry Bear KitchenMy Profile

    • says

      Alicia, LOL! I’m watching a K-drama now in which they show the production of rice cakes. There are so many scenes of people eating these glutinous looking sticks in some sort of spicy sauce that I think it’s a conspiracy to get us all to try them. Today I am driving to the nearest Asian market to get a package. :-)


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