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Korean Noodles (Jap Chae)

gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free, paleo

Gleeful Bowlful of Glass Noodles

Thanks to an awesome (and oh so thoughtful) birthday present from a lovely friend, I recently splurged on on lots of difficult-to-find Asian delicacies that I really miss such as different types of seaweed and sweet potato glass noodles. The latter are a type of glass noodle that form the basis of this classic Korean vegetarian noodle dish japchae. Noodles give rise to many heated debates. Did Marco Polo bring them from Italy to China or did he discover them in China and bring them back to Italy? Carbon dating of the world’s oldest noodle suggests that the first noodle originated in China 4,000 years ago- mi dispiace cari amici.

And are glass noodles and rice noodles the same? Contrary to popular belief, NO! Rice noodles are white, opaque and certainly not glass-like. Though they are indeed a staple all around Asia- rice sticks used in Pad Thai, rice vermicelli used to stuff Vietnamese summer rolls and divine rice rolls known as cheong fan that grace most southern Chinese tables as an essential component of dim sum; rice noodles are not glass noodles.

So what are glass noodles, you ask? Glass noodles are made from vegetable starch, most commonly mung bean, sweet potato or pea. They are semi-translucent when dry and truly glass-like with a greyish hue when cooked. Though both rice and glass noodles are gluten-free, glass noodles are even more nutritious (and thus better for you), as not grain-based, thus paleo-friendly and lower GI! Hip hip hooray for glass noodles! They can easily be found in most Asian supermarkets.

This dish reminds me of our days studying in Beijing, especially the streets of Wudaokou, the university district in Beijing, that were teeming with Koreans and Korean restaurants. This was when and where we discovered that Korean food was totally amazing! We used to have japchae for lunch regularly. Before our Beijing adventure, we both didn't really get Korean food. We thought Korean food was essentially just kimchi and barbecued meats, but how we were wrong! And so began a wondrous discovery of unique and inventive dishes with interesting textures, colours and flavours. Oh and if you didn't know yet, we are totally obsessed with kimchi now! Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Korean Sweet Potato Noodles

Serves 2

100g sweet potato glass noodles 
2 tb sesame oil
1 white onion, thinly sliced
2 spring onion (white and green parts), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained, and sliced
2 small carrots, julienned
1 small courgette / zucchini, julienned
2 cups spinach leaves
2 tb tamari
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp coconut sugar or 1 tsp maple syrup
1 tb black sesame seeds

1 tb gochujang (optional) 

sea salt to taste


1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the noodles for about 5 minutes until al dente. Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside.

2. Heat the sesame oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, and courgette, and stir fry until softened for about 5 minutes.

3. Add the spinach, noodles, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Turn the heat down to low and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Turn off heat, toss in the sesame seeds and sprinkle with spring onions. Season to taste with sea salt.

4. Serve hot or cold. Enjoy!