If a Noodle Could Teach the World to Sing


Once upon a time, when I was young and did things I regret, I held racist attitudes towards Koreans. They stemmed, I know for a fact, from a dislike I had for three Korean dudes in my middle school. But, in the way of the racist, I started to "find" other evidence of their barbarism. One of which was the fact that they would mix their starches. They eat soups filled with rice cakes with rice. That's like eating mashed potatoes with pasta! That's like eating a roll between two slices of bread! That's like eating…noodles with rice!


Well, it turns out that Koreans do, indeed, eat noodles with rice. But, in the way of racists, I was able to conveniently ignore the fact that the Chinese—and I myself—would sometimes eat noodles with rice. Or potatoes with rice, for that matter.

I have thankfully since grown up, at least enough to acknowledge the asininity of my anti-Korean biases. And for my maturation, I am rewarded with chap chae.

Made from the starch of sweet potatoes, the noodles in this dish are translucent, and cook up so bouncy and chewy they snap back like rubber bands when you pull them from their tangle on the plate. They're stirfried simply with onions, strips of carrot, a few tiny shreds of beef for texture and a little flavor, and generously seasoned with sweet soy sauce and a sprinkle of sesame oil to finish. They take on a certain sheen when cooked, their outsides lacquered with the sauce and oil. I don't know the science of it, but I suspect that the type of starch doesn't absorb liquid thirstily once cooked, and so the seasonings stick to the outside, giving them a powerful flavor impact in the mouth. And so what do you need to temper the flavor? Rice, of course.

Subscribe to Gourmet