Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jajamen on a Snowy Day

Every guide book for Morioka will probably mention the so-called "Three Great Noodles" of this major city in Iwate Prefecture - namely the Wako Soba, Reimen and Jajamen. We set off as our mission to try out all three during our short stay in Morioka. Among the three, my personal favorite was Jajamen.

Jajamen said to have originated from a similar Northern Chinese dish known as "Ja Jian Mien" (炸醬麵), and also heavily influenced by the Korean version of Jajangmyeon probably coming from the same root. The recipe made its way to Morioka during or after the war, and now it's modified and served in its own unique way in this part of Japan.

The core ingredients in every Jajamen are pretty much the same - the thick udon noodles, dark miso paste, cucumber and green onion. But each Jajamen shop was said to have its own secret formula of miso paste and own different set of condiments.

Quite a number of noodles shops around town specialized in Jajamen, and we tried ours at one called Pairon (白龍), a hole-in-the-wall shop said to have served the first bowl of Morioka Jajamen more than 50 years ago. Nowadays they got a few branches around Morioka, but we went to the Honten, or original shop, close to the entrance of Morioka Park.

The snow started to fall as we arrived at Morioka the day before which developed into a full blown snowstorm overnight, so we thought a hot bowl of noodles was perfect for breakfast before we set out on a quick sightseeing walk around town. There's nothing fancy about the shop with typical set up - just a few seats behind the kitchen counter and a few tables. The place is super tourist-friendly with English menu and even a booklet with well written instructions of how to eat Jajamen.

The menu was quite simple - noodles came in different portion (small, medium and large), and there's a choice of original version based on udon, or one with soba noodles. After you ordered, the noodles would be cooked and 15 minutes later, a big, shallow bowl would land on your table, with the pile of noodles topped with dark miso paste with meat, cucumber, green onions, grated ginger and garlic.

A certain ritual must be followed when you eat jajamen, or else you would look like an idiot. First step you must mix everything well together as the miso paste would be too salty on its own. After the first slurp you are free to add additional condiments (available at the counter) into your bowl as you like - including dark vinegar, hot chili oil, sesame oil and chili powder.

While you eat, don't worry about leaving behind some sauce or even bits of noodles in the bowl - we will come to that later. As the bowl of noodles was emptied, just crack an egg into the bowl and start whisking with your chopstick. When you are done, hand the bowl back to the kitchen and a ladle of hot water will be poured in - the same water used for cooking the noodles. With the leftover sauce and beaten egg and the water well mixed together this became the second serving of the dish, known as "chitantan", which is essentially a egg-drop soup with dark miso sauce. You can then able to enjoy every bit of the sauce til the last drop.

We didn't try another bowl in other Morioka noodle shops so it's hard for us to compare, but we thought the Jajamen at Pairon was very nice. The noodles were thick and held up well with the heavy sauce, and the chitantan soup was rich and hearty. Nothing beats a hot bowl of noodles on this snowy day - maybe that's why we love this the most.

When? March 27 2015
Where? Pairon Honten, 5-15 Uchimaru, Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
白龍本店 岩手県盛岡市内丸5-15
Tabelog Site:

(Part of the Japan Rail Trip 2015 Series - a journey through the Tohoku region by rail in spring)

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