Hey guys, it’s Yuto here from @sudachi.recipes and today I'm sharing a quick and easy recipe for Japanese style "Tantanmen" ramen. It's spicy, delicious and you won't believe how easy it is to make! I have a surprise ingredient too, let's get started!
What is tantanmen?
Tantanmen is a delicious, spicy and nutty ramen dish topped with ground pork and pak choi. The broth has a rich sesame flavour and the meat is seasoned with Chinese chilli paste for an extra kick.
It's probably one of my favourite ramen dishes, although for most Japanese people, it's not the first thing to pop to mind if someone says "ramen". Tantanmen is in a league of its own!
Tantanmen is inspired by a Szechuan Chinese dish called "Dandan mian" noodles. If you've tried dandan noodles before, you might realise that they're pretty different to Japanese tantanmen. Dandan noodles are spicer and served in a sauce rather than a broth, and uses a thin kind of noodles rather than the curly yellow noodles used for ramen.
History of Tantanmen
The history goes all the way back to one of the most famous Chinese chefs called "Chén Jiànmín (陳建民)" who came to Japan in the 1950's. He's literally the biggest contributor for well loved Chinese dishes in Japan and Tantanmen is one of the example dishes that he introduced to Japan and modified to Japanese tastes.
Other famous dishes he introduced include Mopo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
Since then, Tantanmen has been loved for decades and now different forms of Tantanmen have been created in different regions such as:
- Katsuura Tantanmen (勝浦タンタンメン) in Katsuura, Chiba (Extra spicy and hot)
- Shirunashi Tantanmen (汁なし担々麵) in Hiroshima (Soupless Tantanmen)
- Odawara Tantanmen (小田原系担々麺) in Odawara, Kanagawa (Thicker soup with sweeter taste)
And of course, if you go to supermarkets or convenience stores in Japan, you will definitely see multiple instant Tantanmen! That kind of shows how much we love Tantanmen!
To make this Tantanmen recipe, I use the following ingredients which can sometimes be a little hard to find if you don't have access to an Asian supermarket.
- Sichuan chilli paste (Doubanjian)
- Chinese sesame paste
- Ground sesame seeds
- Tsuyu sauce
- Rice vinegar
- Chinese chicken stock powder
- Ramen noodles
Luckily, these ingredients are quite easy to substitute. I actually tried making this dish with all substitute ingredients (except doubanjian) and it tasted amazing!
Sichuan Chilli Paste: Doubanjian
I'll start with the most difficult substitute first... Sichuan chilli bean paste called “la doubanjian” (also can be spelled tobanjan). It’s easy to find in supermarkets in Japan because Szechuan style food is very popular here.
It’s a pretty popular ingredient in Chinese cooking so if you live near an Asian supermarket, look for a label with “辣豆瓣酱” or ask for Douban paste/Sichuan chilli bean paste. I’m sure you’ll find it!
Substitute: You could try substituting doubanjian with chilli pastes from other countries such as Sambal Oelek (Indonesian), Gochujang (Korean) or even try mixing miso paste with chilli flakes. (Note: All of these will create very different flavours to the original recipe and it's main aim is to replace the spiciness and depth of flavour, not the actual flavour itself.)
Sesame oil, sesame seeds, sesame paste... various forms of sesame seeds are often used in Chinese cooking. It's toasty and nutty and I just love the flavour of sesame. This recipe calls for "Chinese Sesame Paste" which is made from toasted sesame seeds and has quite a strong flavour.
Substitute: You might be surprised, but my recommended substitute ingredient for Chinese sesame paste is smooth peanut butter! I know it's strange, it's nothing like sesame... but it's nutty and delicious and it works amazingly well. I was surprised when I tried it because I honestly didn't think it would work, but actually I might actually prefer it to the sesame paste. I highly recommend trying this recipe with peanut butter even though it's not very authentic, it really tastes great!
Ground Sesame Seeds
I don't remember seeing ground sesame seeds when I lived in England, but they're pretty common in Japan. You can't substitute it for regular whole sesame seeds because the ground ones are more like a powder and it adds more flavour to the soup. That being said, if you can't get them grounded, you can crush the sesame seeds yourself using a mortar and pestle. Just made sure they're the toasted kind for the best flavour.
Tsuyu is a concentrated dashi based sauce that is often used in Japanese cooking, it adds umami! If you're planning on using tsuyu in other dishes too, we have a recipe for how to make tsuyu sauce from scratch here. But if you're only making it for this recipe, I think it's not really worth it.
Substitute: An equal amount of soy sauce.
Rice vinegar is actually easy to find, but if you don't already have it, it's a bit annoying to buy a whole bottle for just one recipe. Rice vinegar adds a little sourness to the tantanmen but a very small amount is used so you could substitute with a different vinegar or omit completely.
Substitute: White wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
Chinese Chicken Stock Powder
While Western chicken stocks often add extra herbs that go well with Western style cooking, Chinese chicken stock is usually a bit more simple and chicken-y. It's definitely better for Chinese style cooking but I've tested both types and I found that they both work well for this recipe.
Substitute: One Knorr chicken stock cube.
Of course, when you're making any type of ramen, you should use ramen noodles. I'm not talking about the instant cup ramen either, I'm talking about proper ramen!
Luckily, I have a hack recipe which shows you a secret tip on how to turn spaghetti into ramen style noodles. It sounds crazy, but it works and it's great, I highly recommend it! Check it out how to make ramen noodles from spaghetti here!