As soon as we are born, we get auto-registered for an obstacle race called Life. The only way to progress is to face these obstacles again and again unless we are successful. As we progress, the obstacles become harder. It’s common to get stuck. But what’s important is to understand why?
One of the major reasons is ‘resistance to change’. For instance, in 1998, Nokia started ruling the mobile phone market in the world. After 10 years in 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. In just 4 years, Nokia lost everything to Apple’s iPhone and faced a decline of about 90% in its market value. One of the primary reasons was not accepting the fact that the preference of people and technology is changing. Not evolving with time made their product look inferior to that of the iPhone.
The story of Japchae
To keep up with our competitors, it is imperative that we survive. To survive, we must learn to evolve ourselves with the changing environment. You must have heard many stories of people and companies evolving over the years, but have you ever heard the story of the internationally loved cuisine Japchae (잡채; 雜菜)? Because if you haven’t, then you are in luck. Get ready to be inspired by the journey of the popular Korean dish, Japchae.
Phase I: The original Recipe
The journey began ca. 400 years ago in the early 17th century. Yi Chung cooked a stir-fried vegetable and mushroom dish for King Gwanghaegun and his palace. The king loved it so much that he promoted Yi Chung to a high-rank position as a reward. It was named Japchae (‘Jap’ means mixed and ‘Chae’ means vegetable).
It was cooked with cucumbers, radishes, and shiitake mushrooms. That’s it! As surprising as it sounds to Japchae lovers, this is the original recipe of Japchae. Unlike today, it was a vegetarian dish and eaten without noodles. This is due to widespread influence of Buddhism across Korea, and the fact that noodles were not yet introduced there.
Japchae was immediately added to the Korean royal court cuisine. It used to symbolize royalty during that time. It was a symbol of luxury and elegance. It was meant to be served to the royal families and high-level officials which signified richness and pride.
Phase II: Popularity of Glass Noodles
In the 19th century, international exploration started becoming ‘the thing’ as people were craving power over one another. The concept of noodles entered Korea from China with the Mongols. But it was glass noodles which gradually became the staple noodles in Korea. Glass noodles are made from the sweet potato starch and are therefore also known as sweet potato noodles. Japan brought sweet potato in Korea as a famine-relief food, naturally increasing the interaction of the locals and sweet potato. As it was abundantly available, the Japanese began large-scale manufacturing of glass noodles. Glass noodles gained prominence and people began wanting to eat only noodle dishes.
In the early 20th Century glass noodles became a part of the recipe of Japchae. It started gaining prominence and people began to consume more of it. It didn’t take long for glass noodles to become a vital part of its recipe. Japchae was able to survive as it successfully adapted with the changes in people’s taste and preferences.
Japchae gradually became a symbol of a long and happy life because of the length of the noodles. That is why the length of the noodles in Japchae is not shortened traditionally. It has become a traditional celebration cuisine that is frequently prepared and served on special occasions, such as birthdays, marriages, and holidays. It symbolizes good luck.
Phase III: The rise of Beef culture
Apart from Buddhism, another reason for inconsequential beef consumption was the lack of widespread cattle farming. But as modernization started to kick-in, the thoughts and technology began to change. Improvement in cattle raising techniques increased the availability of beef and initiated people to consume it. It did not take long for beef to become a vital ingredient in Korean food.
The taste and preferences of the Koreans changed yet again. Similar to what happened earlier, the consumption of vegetarian dishes fell this time. Just like last time, Japchae evolved again; this time, it was infused with beef. If it was not for evolution, this story would have been over.
Phase IV: Today
Today, we have reached that point, when a lot is happening around the world, time has started flowing at the speed of a waterfall, the taste and preferences of people have never been so dynamic, and you have to prove your worth. While some people want to enjoy the traditional taste, others might prioritize the impact of a dish on our health or environment.
Amid fierce competition, people are striving for innovation to stand-out. Today, Japchae can be cooked in many ways. Apart from the signature veg and non-veg dish, there are many modern recipes as well.
Cooking the signature recipe involves stir-frying Dangmyeon, a type of glass noodles, with some vegetables (such as onions, spinach, fresh mushrooms, carrots, and red pepper), and Elderberry mushroom (dried) in sesame oil. Soy sauce and sesame seeds are seasoned before serving. (watch how we make Japchae: How to cook Japchae?)
Adding Beef or not is a choice. The best part of Japchae is that it can be enjoyed equally by all: vegetarians, vegans and non-vegetarians. But, since beef became popular, the Koreans started adding beef in Japchae.
Beef is a source of protein in Japchae. It can be easily replaced with Tofu if you want to maintain the nutritional value. Everything remains the same, the only difference is the option of adding tofu instead of beef in this case.
For a dish whose ingredients are fresh veggies, protein-rich beef/tofu, and nutritional sesame oil, the only ingredient left is glass noodles. Lately, the Shirataki noodles, popularly known as Miracle noodles, have become a healthy substitute for all kinds of traditional noodles. Being promoted as a ‘zero-calorie miracle noodles’, it is no longer a secret ingredient to make low-carb noodle dishes.
Today, Japchae is an inspiration to many. It symbolizes change and evolution. No one could have predicted that Japchae will transform from a rich heritage cuisine into a popular traditional celebration-cuisine. If it wasn’t for evolution, Japchae would never have survived the 20th century and would have become a part of a history lesson. Not only is evolution vital, Japchae also portrays that it is an unending process.
Its story motivates us to look up to the changes around us as nothing but an opportunity which can be capitalized. Not able to react wisely to changes in our environment might lead us on to the footsteps of becoming obsolete. Japchae inspires us to evolve ourselves in sync with the changes around us. This will not only guarantee our survival but might also lead us towards success, as it did for Japchae.
As we at EasyCookAsia believe that, “Change is inevitable, Evolution is the prize.” so let’s eat Japchae together and get inspired.
Check out Japchae Kochbox (one of the best selling dishes at EasyCookAsia)