This classic Korean japchae recipe makes a delicious Korean noodle dish of stir fried glass noodles with mixed vegetables. Called dangmyeon in Korean, the sweet potato starch noodles are doused in sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds, then combined with stir-fried carrot sticks, onion, mushrooms, and spinach.
Years ago, when we lived in Sydney’s Potts Point, where there was a lively Korean and Japanese dining and drinking scene, thanks to Korean and Japanese business travellers who stayed in the neighbourhood, we used to eat Korean food weekly, including japchae or chapchae, one of my favourite Asian noodle dishes, not just a favourite Korean noodle dish.
In the years since, along with the Korean dishes bulgogi, bibimbap and kimchi bokkeumbap (kimchi fried rice) – in fact, anything with kimchi – japchae has become one of the most popular Korean dishes in the world.
These days, I make this classic Korean japchae recipe at home for the chewy Korean glass noodles called dangmyeon or sweet potato noodles. Drenched in a sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds, after boiling, the noodles are combined with mixed vegetables, before the whole lot is stir-fried again.
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Now let me tell you more about this classic Korean japchae recipe for the Korean noodle dish of stir fried glass noodles with mixed vegetables.
Korean Japchae Recipe for Stir Fried Glass Noodles with Vegetables
This traditional Korean japchae recipe makes the deliciously addictive Korean noodle dish of stir fried sweet potato starch noodles or dangmyeon in Korean, which are coated in a savoury sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds, before being combined with stir-fried carrot sticks, onion, mushrooms, and spinach.
These days I make japchae at home, but we used to eat Korean food weekly when we lived in Potts Point years ago. Thanks to the Korean and Japanese business travellers checking into the Nikko Hotel everyday, the neighbourhood had a buzzy Korean and Japanese dining and drinking scene with Korean barbecue joints, Japanese restaurants, izakayas with karaoke, and there was even a popular Korean bathhouse.
Terence and I would often drop into our favourite Korean restaurant late on a Thursday, too tired to cook after a busy week at work during the day and uni classes in the evening. Then on Friday or Saturday night we’d head to our favourite Korean barbecue restaurant with friends.
No sooner had we ordered and trays jam-packed with tiny dishes of Korean banchan or starters would arrive, filled with pickle vegetables and different types of kimchi – baechu kimchi (red chilli pepper kimchi), baek kimchi (white kimchi), kkakdugi (radish kimchi), and oi sobago (cucumber kimchi).
If there was a group of us, we’d always get several types of Korean barbecue meats and seafood with different sauces, along with sizzling sides of ojingeo bokkeum (spicy stir-fried squid), jeyuk bokkeum (spicy stir-fried pork), pajeon (spring onion pancakes) and, of course, japchae.
If we weren’t going out for Korean food, I was bringing Korean food home. There was a Korean-owned takeaway on the same lane as our favourite Korean restaurant that sold all sorts of Asian noodles and soups, and if I wasn’t picking up some pad Thai or char kway teow, I was taking home a container of Korean japchae.
An old Korean specialty long before it was popular Korean restaurant fare and a Korean takeaway favourite, japchae was a centuries-old Korean royal dish served at palace banquets. It was invented in the 17th century for King Gwanghaegun and is documented in the royal records of the period.
One of the palace chefs, who was continually creating new dishes for the king, came up with japchae, which the king became smitten with, according to this fabulous book produced by the Korean Food Foundation, which we picked up at Campsie Food Festival years ago.
The original japchae consisted of thinly sliced mixed vegetables with a special sauce – hence the name: ‘jap’ means mixed and ‘chae’ is vegetables. The glass noodles made from sweet potato starch didn’t appear until 1919 when a dangmyeon factory was opened in Sariwon and a version of japchae made with dangmyeon became popular a decade later.
Ever since, japchae has been a dish eaten out as well as eaten in, a traditional home-cooked meal and celebratory dish made for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, as much as it is a Korean restaurant speciality and takeaway favourite.
Just a few tips to making this classic Korean japchae recipe based on how I make it here at home in Siem Reap.
Tips to Making this Korean Japchae Recipe for Stir Fried Glass Noodles with Vegetables
As usual, I only have a few tips to making this vegetarian Korean japchae recipe and if you’ve made japchae before the traditional Korean way, you’ll note that I do a couple of things differently, which are influenced by our decade or so living in Southeast Asia.
When it comes to boiling the glass noodles, follow the instructions on the packet. The Korean brand of dangmyeon I buy takes 5-6 minutes to soften, although I note that some recipes call for 7-8 minutes. That’s too long for the noodles I use. The noodles should not be al dente, they should be soft, but you still want them to be a little chewy.
Korean cooks also cut their noodles with scissors into shorter pieces, but I prefer longer noodles. Try both and see what you prefer.
I do all my vegetable prep first and then, while the noodles are boiling, stir-fry the vegetables in a flat round-bottomed wok on high heat, so that they cook faster. As the vegetables should be tender but still have some crunch or bite, the vegetables should be done by the time the noodles are ready. I set a timer as the last thing you want are mushy noodles.
Korean cooks stir-fry each vegetable separately so they can season each vegetable separately – and while I do stir-fry some vegetables separately, I don’t season every vegetable as I don’t think all that salt is necessary when you have the tasty sauce and flavoursome vegetables. I know that sounds strange coming from someone who loves intensely flavoured Southeast Asian cuisines but I think the sauce is flavourful enough and I’m trying to reduce our salt intake.
Most classic Korean japchae recipes include sugar in the sauce. I’ve also left the sugar out, as the japchae we ate for years was savoury and didn’t include sugar and I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve nevertheless included it as optional on the ingredients list, so do as you see fit.
Korean cooks will blanche their spinach in hot water but I clean out the wok with a paper kitchen towel and quickly stir-fry the spinach at the end.
This Korean japchae recipe makes a vegetarian japchae. If you want to make a beef japchae, use something like rib eye, sliced into strips, perhaps marinated it in soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil first and quickly stir-fry it in the wok. Do it before the vegetables so it has time to rest.
Another variation is to add thin slices of omelette. Home-cooks in Korea will use their hands to mix everything together in a bowl at the end, but I ensure everything is thoroughly combined in the final stir-fry. A big wooden spoon or salad servers also work.
Serve immediately – this makes four medium-sized bowls or two big bowls like you see in the pics here – and don’t forget to garnish with more pan roasted sesame seeds. I also add a sprinkle of finely sliced scallions or spring onions.
Korean Japchae Recipe for Stir Fried Glass Noodles with Vegetables
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds toasted
- ½ tsp black pepper ground
- ½ tsp fine caster sugar optional
- 200 g Korean dangmyeon potato starch noodles
- 2 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 100 g carrot matchstick slices
- 100 g onion sliced thinly
- 100 g fresh shiitake mushrooms sliced
- ½ tsp salt
- 6 scallions or spring onions cut into 4cm lengths
- 150 g fresh spinach stems trimmed
- In a small jar or bowl, create a sauce for the noodles by stirring the sesame oil, soy sauce, minced garlic, toasted sesame seeds, ground black pepper, and the optional sugar to combine well then set aside.
- In a large pot, boil 2-3 litres of water on high heat, then boil the noodles according to the packet instructions until translucent and soft; around 5 minutes.
- Use a fine mesh strainer to drain the noodles, rinse them under cold running water, then drain them again, and transfer them to a large bowl. Pour in half the sauce, and stir it in well so the noodles are completely covered. Note: as the noodles soak up the sauce and cool they may lose their transparency.
- In a flat-bottomed wok on high heat, heat half a tablespoon of neutral cooking oil until shimmering, then stir-fry the carrot matchsticks for a couple of minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a large bowl; using the same oil, stir-fry the onions until soft and translucent, then transfer them to the bowl.
- To the same wok, heat a tablespoon of neutral cooking oil and stir-fry the shiitake mushrooms, seasoned with salt, until they start to soften, add the spring onions/scallions and continue to stir-fry until the mushrooms just begin to brown, then transfer to the bowl; and lastly, quickly stir-fry the spinach until soft, and transfer to the same bowl.
- Wipe out the wok with a paper kitchen towel, add half a tablespoon of cooking oil, heat until shimmering, return the mixed vegetables and noodles to the wok, add the rest of the sauce, and stir fry for a few minutes, combing everything well until warm again and the noodles are translucent once more.
- Transfer to bowls, sprinkle on some more sesame seeds, and serve immediately.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make this classic vegetarian Korean japchae recipe, as we love to hear how our recipes turn out for you.