Out of curiosity, I tried to replicate Nagasaki’s specialty noodle dish champon right at home! It’s not as hard as I thought it would be.
Nagasaki Champon [長崎ちゃんぽん] to me is a bit like a warm comforting hug. It’s the kind of noodle soup you’d probably want on a day when you’re not feeling too good and you want something warm to slurp on. It’s not spicy, and it’s not extra flavorful. It’s got a light milky taste, and it is packed with nutritious veggies and tasty seafood (plus some protein).
I will say that champon isn’t my favorite Japanese noodle dish. (Miso Ramen is hard to beat.) However I found myself enjoying this nonetheless. It’s rather different from most noodle dishes I’ve tried in Japan; different in the sense that it’s very Chinese.
Japan has always had a very identifiable cuisine, but here in Nagasaki, the rest of the world has managed to add bits and pieces of influence to the cuisine. Back when this port city was a busy hub to foreigners, a lot of Chinese, Portuguese, and other Europeans sailed onto its shores. This part of Nagasaki’s history is very much apparent in the architecture and the food you will find here. In one meal, you can have Chinese sweet and sour pork plus champon as your mains, then Portuguese egg tarts for dessert.
I hadn’t expected that I would be able to cook champon at home after the trip, but during one of my scrolling sessions through Shopee (lol) I found a shop selling champon noodles! Who would’ve thought?
Getting the noodles pretty much sealed the deal and I went ahead and tried the recipe from Just One Cookbook that I had bookmarked just in case. Making champon is not as complicated or time-consuming as making ramen is, or at least not this particular recipe. It’s not fussy, and true to most Chinese recipes it just has you stir-frying the ingredients.
The best part about champon is that you can mix and match the toppings. The picture on the noodle package gives you some pretty good ideas. I wish I added some corn kernels in mine too since I love corn.
This recipe works best when you use champon noodles, which are a fatter version of your typical ramen noodles. It almost looks like fat spaghetti although it doesn’t have the same sort of eggy taste. Traditionally I think the noodles are boiled in the soup, but we’re boiling them separately today and then transferring the noodles to individual serving bowls right after.
The broth in this recipe is a combination of chicken stock and dashi. Typically it’s a combo of chicken stock and broth from pig bones, but this version is a bit lighter on the palate. I especially love that little milky taste the soup imparts.
As for the toppings, I decided to make it all seafood by omitting the pork belly because I was too lazy to got out and buy some lol. But if you don’t tend to like pork, you can use chicken instead. I did forget to add in some wood ear mushroom which is a shame, but the champon I made had plenty enough toppings and was so filling!
You can switch up the topping ingredients to what suits your palate, but somehow, to me champon has to have shrimp and squid and fish cake (I used naruto), otherwise it isn’t quite champon. The cabbage also has to be there alongside the carrots and bean sprouts. I’d be fine without the snow peas, but next time I’m going to throw in some corn. It’s really up to you!
Cooking this dish couldn’t be easier because you really just throw everything in to stir-fry before adding the broth. Once everything comes together, it’s only a matter of transferring the soup and toppings on top of the waiting noodles. Since I served this as a side, I was able to divide it into 6 servings. As a main, this serves 2 very generously.
It’s going to be hard not to compare champon with the more popular ramen, but if you’re hankering for a lighter and less rich kind of noodle soup dish, try this one out. It’s an easy recipe to have in your repertoire for those colder days when you want a good bowl of something warm and packed with toppings.
Nagasaki Champon 長崎ちゃんぽん
Serves 2 as a main dish and 4 to 6 as a side.
For the soup
- 2 cups 500mL chicken stock
- 1 cup dashi*
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup whole milk
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- Salt, as needed
For the toppings and noodles
- 60 grams pork belly, sliced into 1-inch pieces**
- 75 grams shrimp
- 60 grams squid, scored with crisscross patterns
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 6 pieces dried wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated in water and sliced into smaller pieces***
- 1 small carrot, sliced into thin 2-inch long pieces
- ¼ of a yellow onion, sliced
- 145 grams cabbage, sliced into strips
- 30 grams snow peas
- 10 to 12 slices of fish cake
- 115 grams bean sprouts
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil, for cooking
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Salt, as needed
- 311 grams 11 oz champon noodles
- 1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over low heat for the noodles. Cook the noodles according to package instructions, but remove from heat 15 to 20 seconds before what the package states. Make sure to separate the noodles before adding to the boiling water so they don't stay clumped together. Drain the noodles well and transfer to serving bowls. (Or one big bowl for sharing.)
- 2. Prepare the soup: In a medium pot, combine the chicken stock, dashi, sake, soy sauce, sugar. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, mix in the milk and white pepper. Taste the soup and see if you need to season with the salt as it might be salty enough with just the chicken stock and the dashi.
- 3. Prepare the topping: Heat a wok on medium high and add in the sesame oil. Cook the pork belly until no longer pink. Add the shrimp and squid and cook until no longer opaque.
- 4. Add the onion and carrot and stir fry for 1 minute. Stir fry the wood ear mushrooms and cabbage for 1 minute. Finally, add the fish cake, bean sprouts, and snow peas and stir fry for another minute. Season with freshly ground black pepper and toss to combine.
- 5. Add the prepared soup into the wok. Taste the soup and see if you need to adjust the salt.
- 6. Add the toppings and soup into the bowls with the noodles. Serve immediately.
**I decided not to add any pork this time around.
***I forgot to add this in but it will provide some added texture to the dish so I highly recommend it. Adapted from Just One Cookbook blog