September 23, 2010 09:40
Among the key dishes in Korean cuisine is Japchae, cellophane noodles with thinly sliced beef and a variety of vegetables. The name, in fact, is a poor description of the dish, since "jap" means mix and "chae" vegetables. So where do the beef and noodles come from?
The riddle can be solved by looking at the history of japchae. It was invented by King Gwanghaegun's liege Yi Chung during the Chosun dynasty as a dish for the king's party. And indeed, at the time it was made only with vegetables and mushrooms. The king was delighted with it and promoted Yi Chung to one of the highest ranks, equivalent to the position of secretary of the Treasury, and japchae became a fixture at the royal court.
But like many other royal dishes, japchae in time became a favorite among ordinary people. Its popularity spread more widely when cellophane noodles made of sweet potato starch from China became available in Korea later in the 20th century. They were favored for their tenderness that makes it soft outside but firm inside. Beef was added when people adapted the dish to their own tastes.
To this day, japchae is often associated with celebrations and served at weddings, child's first birthday, and 60th birthday banquets.
Personal experiments are manifest in the many forms the dish has come to take. It allows variations with seafood, or chili peppers, mushrooms, or bean sprouts or whatever else takes the cook's fancy.
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