Introducing Zajiang Noodles (Zajiangmian, 杂酱面), Chengdu’s Favorite Noodle


Jump to Recipe – proceed at owN risk
Chengdu zajiang mian with pickled long beans

Just Don’t Call It Zhajiangmian

As we learned in a guest post from Chengdu Food Tours’s Jordan Porter, zajiangmian is one of Chengdu’s most popular noodles. It is a heartier big brother to the diminutive dandan noodles, which is generally served in a small snack size, making the meal-size zajiangmian the more-common and more-loved noodle in modern Chengdu.

But first, I want to share my closer-to-home inspiration: the zajiangmian at Mian, a real-deal Sichuan/Chongqing noodle shop in L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley. Opened by Tony Xu, chef-owner of the incomparable Chengdu Taste, it has likewise turned the heads of food critics, with Jonathan Gold naming its zajiang noodles one of Los Angeles’s 10 best dishes of 2016. (As an aside, City of Gold, the documentary about Gold that includes Chengdu Taste is on Amazon Video now. I devoured it like I do the food the uber-critic recommends.)

The only problem is that in his writing Gold repeatedly calls zajiangmian “zhajiang”mian, which is a famous noodle dish native to Beijing. There’s understandable confusion about whether zajiangmian (杂酱面, zájiàngmiàn) is the Sichuan version of Beijing zhajiangmian (炸酱面, zhájiàngmiàn), but people who know tell me it is not. Zhajiang (炸酱) means “fried sauce,” as a reader of this blog once pointed out to me, while zajiang (杂酱) means “mixed sauce.” Plus, the two dishes are made and taste very different. No one had to point that out to me.

In 2010 I took a taxi to the far ‘burbs of Beijing to eat in the capital’s most famous zhajiang noodle house. When I entered, two women were standing up front for all to see, stirring large pans of the pork sauce for the noodles, frying small, fatty pork chunks in a thick, Beijing-style soybean sauce and a lot of oil. The pork sauce was then served in a small bowl alongside a large bowl of noodles topped with raw and almost-raw vegetables (bean sprouts, cabbage, cucumber, radish, fresh soybean, scallions), and you mix the sauce in yourself.

Beijing zhajiang noodle ladies
Making sauce for the famous zhajiangmian at Fortune Long Beijing Bean Sauce Noodles
Beijing zhajiang noodles and sauce
A small bowl of the pork-and-bean sauce is served with the noodles and vegetables
Beijing zhajiang noodles
Beijing zhajiang noodles after the mix

How Is Chengdu Zajiangmian Different From Beijing Zhajiangmian?

Chengdu zajiangmian differs from zhajiangmian not only in flavor but in how it is composed and presented. A zajiang “mixed sauce” is constructed in the bottom of the bowl before the noodles are added, and the meat topping is merely that, a topping; it is not the noodle sauce on its own, as it is in zhajiangmian. Zajiangmian is built on a Sichuan sauce of chili oil, huajiao, soy sauce and other goodies added to the bottom of the bowl. Zajiangmian’s pork topping, called saozi, is seasoned more lightly than zhajiang and is not in a bean sauce. It sits atop the wheat noodles with other toppings such as a fried egg, stewed yellow peas, boiled greens, pickled long beans, zhacai, peanuts, etc. Chengdu zajiangmian is much spicier than Beijing zhajiangmian, due to the defining additions of chili oil and Sichuan pepper.

The art of eating zajiangmian, as Jordan explained, is in the “ban,” or mix, the art of distributing the sauce throughout the other ingredients. If one pays close attention to the menu and placemat when eating at Mian, you can learn all of this.

Mian's Chengdu zajiang menu
Mian is careful to distinguish Chengdu zajiang from Beijing zhajiang. The Chinese text says, “People in Beijing love to eat noodles with fried sauce, while people in Chengdu love noodles with mixed sauce. This mixed sauce is not the same as fried sauce.”
Mian's Chengdu zajiang noodle placemat
Not sure if you can read the noodle-eating instructions, but Step 1 is “Take a photo for your noodle!”, step 2 is “Hold your chopsticks all the way to the bottom,” and step 3 is “Stir evenly.”
Mian's Chengdu zajiang noodles for Instagram
See Step 1. (She would have done it anyway. I taught her well.)
Mian's Chengdu zajiangmian post-mix
See Steps 2 and 3 (per placemat).  This is after I mixed the sauce on the bottom and the pork topping into the noodles. I chose to leave the other toppings unmixed. I added the bawan beans (yellow peas/wandou) from Chongqing to my zajiangmian as an extra.

How to Make Chengdu Zajiangmian at Home

Ingredients for Chengdu zajiang mian sauce

A sauce for zajiangmian begins with the best Sichuan-style chili oil you can get your hands on (we’re partial to our own Chengdu Crispy Chili Oil) plus premium soy sauce, black vinegar, roasted sesame oil and, sometimes, roasted sesame paste. Here I have soaked grated garlic and ginger in some water before mixing in the sesame paste.

Chili oil is added to the sauce for Chengdu noodles

In this version, I omitted the sesame paste and made a more traditional zajiangmian sauce. Make it first without the sesame paste and you’ll be tasting Chengdu itself. Add sesame paste in a future version because it is a yummy variation.

Either way, the key component besides chili oil is the freshly roasted and crushed huajiao (Sichuan pepper). The great thing about this kind of sauce is that you can adapt it to each diner, since the sauce is made individually in each bowl. So pile in the chili oil and huajiao for Chengdu-style and back off on them for people who might not have a Chengdu palate. You’ll also add some salt, sugar and, optional but standard, MSG and a bit of fresh pork lard (also optional but highly recommended).

Also key to zajiangmian is the mian, or wheat noodles. Most often in Chengdu these are medium-weight alkaline noodles, like the package in this photo but fresh. You can also use fresh wheat noodles if you have access to good ones. Alkaline gives the noodles some bounce and bite, the better to stand up to all these flavors and toppings.

Beef topping for zajiang noodles

A ‘wet’ pork topping, or saozi, makes for a juicier bowl of noodles. This one is made with pickled erjingtiao chiles from the Sichuan pickle jar, soy sauces and sweet wheat paste. You can also use Pixian doubanjiang as the seasoning. You are going for a very fine mince of pork, not big chunks. I removed this pork after the first cook and minced it further with my cleaver before returning to the wok to add the sauces and continue cooking.

Chengdu zajiangmian

Pork mince saozi, fried egg and bok choy are the most common toppings for Chengdu zajiangmian.

Pickled long beans from the Sichuan pickle jar

Another popular version of zajiangmian is topped with the saozi and pickled long beans and is called jiangdou zajiangmian. Above are some long beans from my Sichuan pickle jar. You can buy the fermented yardlong beans readymade, but I usually have some in my trusty paocai jar.  (Visit our Sichuan paocai recipe for making your own.)

Chengdu noodles with pickled long beans

This bowl of jiangdou (long bean) zajiangmian is served with a side of paocai, fermented cabbage from the pickle jar, as are most noodles in Chengdu. Sour, savory probiotic pickles make an appearance in both the noodle and the side dish.

Chengdu zajiang mian after it has been stirred

Once served, the diner uses their chopsticks to mix the sauce, noodles and toppings into a balanced flavor fest!

The final thought I’d like to leave you with is that you can vary the following recipe for the pork topping and the bottom-of-the-bowl sauce in any way that pleases you. Make Chengdu zajiang your own, just as the Sichuanese do. Just don’t call it zhajiangmian.

For more classic Sichuan noodle recipes, try FC’s favorite Sour and Spicy Sweet-Potato Noodles (Suanlafen, 酸辣粉) or Yibin Ranmian 燃面 (Burning Noodles From Yibin, Sichuan) or Sichuan Sesame Noodles in Strange Flavor Sauce (Guaiweimian, 怪味面)

This 2017 recipe was significantly updated and revised in August 2023. 

Chengdu Zajiang Noodles (Zajiangmian, 杂酱面)

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


Pork topping for 4-6 servings

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3 Sichuan pickled erjingtiao chilies, minced (or sub 1 tablespoon Pixian doubanjiang)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • cups water
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon tianmianjiang (sweet wheat sauce)

Sauce ingredients PER BOWL/SERVING

  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed or grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan-style chili oil (half oil, half crisp) adjust to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground Sichuan pepper (see note) adjust to taste
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon sugar
  • teaspoon MSG optional
  • 1 teaspoon lard optional, but pretty key
  • 3 tablespoons water that noodles boiled in
  • thinly sliced green onions for garnish

4 ounces (100 grams) dried, or 6 ounces fresh, alkaline wheat noodles per serving

    Additional, optional toppings

    • baby bokchoy, boiled in noodle water also good: cabbage, spinach, yuchoy
    • hard-fried egg
    • pickled long beans, cut in ½-inch pieces

    Sesame Variation

    • 1 teaspoon roasted sesame paste added to sauce adjust to taste


    • First make the pork topping. Heat wok over a high flame until wisps of heat start to rise, add 2 tablespoons caiziyou or other cooking oil and heat until hot. Add pork, vigorously breaking it up with your spatula into the smallest crumbles possible. Cook pork until starting to brown and most of its juices have been cooked off. Push pork to the sides of the wok to make a well in the center and add the pickled chilies and garlic. Let cook briefly and then stir-fry with the pork. Add the water, light and dark soy sauces and sweet wheat paste and bring to a low boil. Let simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Add more water if necessary to maintain a wet sauce.
    • Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil. Add bokchoy (if using) and boil until just done. Remove bokchoy and reserve. Add noodles to same pot and cook until tender. Remove 1 cup of noodle water and reserve, before draining noodles. (Better yet, try to time it so you can lift the noodles from the pot directly into the bowls of waiting sauce.)
    • While noodles are cooking, prepare a bowl for each individual serving. Add garlic and ginger to bowl with 2 tablespoons water. Add chili oil with crisp, soy sauce, vinegar, roasted sesame oil, Sichuan pepper powder, salt, sugar, MSG and pork lard (if using) to each bowl. Add 3 tablespoons hot noodle water to each bowl.
      Variation: For a nutty, sesame version, add 1 teaspoon or more roasted sesame paste to sauce in each bowl. (Most often it would not be included in Chengdu.)
    • If using eggs, fry them in oil until completely cooked on each side, one per serving.
    • Place a mound of cooked noodles on top of the sauce in each bowl. Top with desired amount of pork, plus baby bokchoy and/or fried egg and/or pickled long beans. Garnish with green onions. Each diner should thoroughly mix the noodles with the sauce on the bottom and the pork topping before digging in. (If you misjudge the noodle to sauce ratio, add a bit more reserved noodle water to create additional sauce.)


    Ground Sichuan pepper: Sort Sichuan peppercorns and discard any black seeds or twigs. Toast in a dry skillet or toaster oven until pods start to smell very fragrant, but do not brown them. Let peppercorns cool, then grind in a spice grinder or in a mortar & pestle to your desired coarseness. Sichuan pepper powder will retain its potent flavor and numbing punch for only a few weeks.

    Tried this recipe?

    About Taylor Holliday

    The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

    Recipes you might like

    Leave a comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *