Uh, Valentine’s Day was last month … so you may very well be thinking what’s with all the candied hearts and stuffed animals?! Well, in addition to the veneration of St. Valentine or Valentinus (whomever you believe to be the true martyr behind this very misunderstood holiday), many Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, etc.) celebrate another day of love called White Day a month later on the 14th of March … Koreans (as they so often do) take it to the extreme—every 14th of the month from February through May is some sort of gimmicky commercialized holiday.
Looming around the corner one month after White Day, there is Black Day … no, not Black Friday, just Black Day. I know, it’s all very confusing.
This blog post is to elucidate all these obscure 14th of the month holidays in Korea … as well as talk about one of my favorite noodle dishes that has worked its way into the celebrations. Just because … I love food and can.
[February 14] Valentine’s Day: In many parts of the world, this has become a day for paper hearts to be exchanged, along with sweets, flowers and jewelry (in increasing lavishness with age) as a sign of affection for significant others; also known for nightmarish traffic and booked way-in-advance restaurant reservations. In Asia, females purchase chocolates and other gifts to send to the attention of their love interests. Its origins may be both Christian and pagan (as a replacement of a mid-February Roman fertility festival, formerly called Lupercalia), but there is no doubt of Hallmark’s role in popularizing this over $18 billion industry (and that is only counting revenue in the U.S.).
[March 14] White Day: A month after Valentine’s Day, in many parts of Asia, male admirers send heart-shaped candies, plush animals and other tokens of affection to their suitees (yes, I made up that word), some reciprocating gifts they received the previous month … others, not. The reasons it came to be called White Day are dubious, but some point to white chocolate and white lingerie as popularized gifts on this day as the source? *shrug.
[April 14] Black Day: This would be the American-equivalent of S.A.D. (Singles’ Awareness Day), with the exception that those who didn’t receive anything on either Valentine’s or White Days are supposed to eat black bean sauce noodles, known in Korean as jjajangmyeon–superstition being that it will make for a more fortuitous love life in the following year.
[May 14] Rose Day: Exactly what it sounds like, except on the streets of Seoul, people will randomly give roses to strangers passing by. Still not really sure how they plan on making money this way???
I am jumping ahead a month (to April), now, to focus on Black Day—and its fortune-changing noodles. Jjajangmyeon (or black bean sauce noodles) is to Korea, as pizza is to the U.S.—it is commonly ordered and delivered to your door for those days you just don’t want to cook. They traditionally bring it to you in a silver tin box and even come back to collect your bowls after you’re done. It is a Korean-Chinese or Chinese-Korean dish depending on how you want to look at it. It was first made in the early 1900s by a Chinese immigrant in Korea, the original restaurant in Incheon Chinatown which, according to Wikipedia, is now a museum in honor of this noodle dish.
The word jjajangmyeon, is derived from the Chinese characters: jjajang => zhajiang (pinyin) for “fried sauce” and myeon => mian (pinyin) for “noodles”. However, it is different in taste from the Northern Chinese dish zhajiangmian, which uses a different base of yellow soy bean paste, sweet bean sauce, hoisin sauce or broad fava bean sauce—depending on the region. The Korean Chinese version uses fermented black bean sauce (aka chunjang) with meat, vegetables, and sometimes seafood. I know it may not sound the most appetizing, but I promise you it is goo~ood … Unfortunately, I don’t have photos, but here are some links below.
This is a restaurant in the Hyoja neighborhood by Gyeongbokgung which serves old-fashioned hand-pulled jjajangmyeon noodles:
How this guy gets over a million views eating jjajangmyeon? I don’t know .. but here it is, Banzz:
Don’t have easy access to jjajangmyeon delivery? Learn how to make your own from Maangchi:
In any case, I don’t really believe we need a dedicated day to show appreciation to those we love or a reminder on the 14th of every month of our crushes or unrequited love … nor do we have to wait until the 14th of April to eat delicious black noodles. I believe everyday is worth celebrating and appreciating the richness of relationships (of every kind) and food that reminds us how good life is.
Nonetheless, happy White Day, everyone! <3
Next week’s sneak preview: Featured dumplings from Central Asia