Black Day and a Good Bowl of Jajangmyeon
In Korea, following February 14th (Valentine’s Day) and March 14th (White Day), is the unofficial holiday “celebrated” on April 14th known as Black Day. While both Valentine’s Day and White Day focus on the romance shared between couples wrapped in matching couples clothes, spoon-feeding each other food and flaunting the sheer joy of NOT being single, Black day is a special little lonely day for singles, particularly those who didn’t receive anything on the previous two holidays.
It may sound silly, but I’ve had single friends actually leave the country for a short vacation during Valentines Day or White Day. In their defense, Korea has a certain way of making singles feel, well… singled out, especially when there are around 13 unofficial holidays devoted to couples throughout the year. On these holidays there are all kinds of holiday booths selling special gifts on the street and in the subway stations. Restaurants and movie theaters offer special couple sets or discounts. Cafes and bakeries even make special themed drinks or desserts. There really is no escaping it.
So, on Black Day, single people go out (in groups or alone) and share in the tradition of drowning their sorrows over a big bowl of 짜장면 (black-bean noodles). Some hardcore singles even dress in black from head to toe and drink black coffee. While many people certainly don’t prefer being single, the pressure is a bit higher in Korea where everything is done in groups or pairs and 30 is the expected marrying age. While it maybe incredibly depressing for some, these days, many others are trying to make this more of a fun day; a way to embrace being single rather than moping about it. Some restaurants even hold jajangmyeon eating contests to add to the fun!
I may not be single, but I do enjoy a good bowl of jajangmyeon. If you are unfamiliar with this dish, it is a traditional noodle dish made with thick handmade white wheat flour noodles and topped with a black soybean paste that usually contains diced pork and various vegetables. Although it has Chinese origins, jajangmyeon has been readapted to better suit Korean palates and can be traced all the way back to the Joseon Dynasty. Now I’ve had jajangmyeon at a lot of places, but my favorite restaurant is a chain called 홍콩반점0410 (Hong Kong Banjum 0410). While many places tend to over or under cook the noodles, they are cooked to perfection here. The sauce is also very well balanced with vegetables and pork, isn’t too oily or watery and doesn’t overwhelm the noodles. If you want a good idea of what jajangmyeon should taste like, this is a great place to start.
Additionally, they make delicious 탕수육 (tangsuyuk), which is a Korean version of sweet and sour pork. The batter they use is incredibly flavorful and the pork always comes out nice and crispy. The sauce is thick and sweet and sticks to the pork without making it soggy. Their 군만두 (fried mandu) is also definitely worth a try. While it is a bit on the greasy side, it is very well made and bursting with flavor.
On top of serving excellent food, 홍콩반점0410 is pretty cheap. A large bowl of jajangmyeon will only run you ₩5,000. My boyfriend and I usually share a large bowl of jajangmyeon (₩5,000), a small order of tangsuyuk (₩9,500) and a half order of fried mandu (₩2,000). It’s the perfect meal! We get to try a little bit of everything and it only runs us ₩16,500 to leave happily with full bellies. Also, because it is a chain you can find it just about anywhere. My favorite location is a relatively new spot that opened up in Hongdae. It’s open 24hrs, which is great news for all you night owls.
For those of you who are not single, you may want to hold off on that bowl of 자장면. It is said that couples who indulge in a bowl of jajangmyeon on black day are hexed with a curse, dooming them to an inevitable break up. So perhaps Black Day is best left to the singles and the next time you’re in the mood for jajangmyeon, be sure to drop by 홍콩반점0410.