$11.95. 7509 St. Andrews Rd. Irmo, 803-732-4488. sunmingchinese.com
I have many confessions I could make about well-loved Columbia eateries that I have yet to attend in my thus far yearlong stay here. Until recently, Irmo’s Sun Ming was on the list.
There’s not much to say about the highly regarded Chinese restaurant that hasn’t been said already — except that I can humbly agree with the hype.
My order of Jag Jang Mein was recommended by Candice Morgan, my former neighbor, a former chef and current instructor at the University of South Carolina. She’s married to longtime Columbia chef Joe Turkaly, and the two often spend a portion of the year in Korea, where they say the dish is common.
In a message, Morgan raved about Sun Ming’s take on the dish.
“We ate the hell out of the Korean version in Seoul, but this is the first time we’ve had a legit Chinese version,” she wrote to me.
Until now, I was unfamiliar with the dish, but with a recommendation in tow I dutifully went out to try it. After trying Sun Ming’s take — which they designate with “chili meat sauce” as a descriptor on their online menu — it was hard not to see why the two raved about the dish.
Some brief internet research tells me the dish has Korean roots with influences from Chinese cuisine as well. The typical sauce is based on chungjang, a black bean gravy, and while I can’t be certain that Sun Ming’s take uses it, it deceives whatever preconceived notions I had about what a noodle dish would taste like.
The thick noodles come topped with a heap of pungent sauce consisting of ground pork with aromatic red chilis and green onions, alongside finely cut red bell peppers, and serves as ample coating for the entire dish.
I expected salty-sweet flavors that are often featured in lo mein-style dishes — Sun Ming’s Jag Jang Mein is actually under the lo mein banner on its menu. Instead, I was greeted by the sauce’s complex flavor, mingling savory funkiness and simmering spiciness.
Each mouthful had a welcome bite to it, with the noodles’ chewiness and the thick, saucy meat and vegetable mixture making the meal incredibly rewarding.