Food and Beverage
My 30 year search for the perfect Zha Jiang Mian, or Noodles with Minced Pork in Bean Sauce, began when I left New York City for California in 1985. It continued – in vain – through China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
I discovered the dish by accident one night when I stopped for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the Flushing section of Queens.
On my second visit to the restaurant, the affable owner suggested that I give Zha Jiang Mian a try.
“It's the house speciality,” he told me. “Some people take the subway all the way from Chinatown to eat it.”
That was a 90 minute subway ride – followed by a 15 or 20 minute walk through the bustling neighborhood of Flushing, which was full of immigrant communities. “Must be good,” I thought.
OMG! I took one bite … As the Chinese would say, “When you eat some, you want to eat some more!”
Zha Jiang Mian became my favourite dish at that Chinese restauarant in Queens. If I ate there alone, that's what I ordered. If I came with friends, I orderd that – and some other dishes.
As I became better acquainted with the restaurant's owner, I learned more about the background of the dish.
“I am Chinese Korean,” he told me. “This is a Chinese dish, but it's very popular in Korea. In fact, some people say that it is our 'national dish'. You will find it everywhere in Korea.”
I ordered Zha Jiang Mian at other Chinese restaurants in New York, but it was never the same. In fact, it wasn't even close. It didn't taste anything similar to the dish that I enjoyed in Flushing.
I asked the owner of the restaurant about this.
“There is a special ingredient, which I import with the help of my brother-in-law in Korea,” he told me. “You can't get it in America.”
Or anywhere else, I was later to find out …
California, Here I Come!
I left New York and moved back to California, where I was born. When Zha Jiang Mian was on the menu at Chinese restaurants, I often ordered it. And I was ALWAYS disappointed.
Then I moved to Macau, then to Hong Kong. And I sometimes ordered it when it was on the menu. And I was ALWAYS disappointed.
I've traveled throughout China and Taiwan. I've visited lots of cities – Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jiangmen, Qingdao, Shanghai, Suzhou, Taipei, Taishan, Wuxi, Xi'an. I have OFTEN ordered Zha Jiang Mian, and it has NEVER held a candle to what I had in New York …
The Lion Roars Tonight!
Until I visited Singapore …
It was my second night in the Lion City. Our hosts suggested Chinese food.
“I live Hong Kong,” I balked. “Like, we HAVE Chinese food in Hong Kong! As much as I love Chinese food, I was kind of hoping to try some Singaporean food!”
Despite my protests, we ended up at a Chinese restaurant, and here was the game plan. We could each order a main dish (for ourselves). And then were would be some snacks that we could all share.
Never Say Die!
Seeing Zha Jiang Mian on the menu, I decided – NEVER SAY DIE!!! I ordered the Zha Jiang Mian.
When my bowl of noodles arrived, I took a look and thought, “OMG!!! This looks encouraging!”
Then I took a bite. And I thought, “This is just like that Zha Jiang Mian I had in New York – 30 years ago!”
I mentioned this to my hosts at MSL Singapore, who were hosting the dinner. I asked about the restaurant's provenance, and they said that it was part of a chain that was based in Taiwan.
Royal Plaza at Scots
The following night, I moved to another hotel, the Royal Plaza at Scots.
When I mentioned my experience to my hosts over lunch the next day, one of them said, “Oh, yes! Din Tai Fung! It's a very popular chain of Chinese restaurnants in Singapore. And it's based in New York!”
“Really?” I asked.
“But I was told that it's a Taiwanese chain.”
“It might be a Taiwanese chain, but it is based in New York.”
I'm not sure whom to believe – the hosts that said it was based in Taiwan or the hosts that said it was based in New York.
All I know is, there might be a restaurant out there somewhere that serves better Zha Jiang Mian – but I haven't found it yet.
Note: I have since learned the Din Tai Fung is a global chain based in Taiwan.