Tantanmen is a delicious ramen dish made with chewy noodles served in a spicy, nutty broth and topped with seasoned pork and pak choi. You won’t believe how quick and easy it is to make, so impress your friends and family with this restaurant-worthy dish!
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What is Tan Tan Ramen (Tantanmen)?
Tantanmen (担々麺), or Tan Tan Ramen in English, is a delicious, spicy, and nutty ramen dish topped with ground pork and pak choi. The broth has a rich sesame flavor, and the meat is seasoned with Chinese-style chili bean sauce (tobanjan) for an extra kick.
It’s probably one of my favorite 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 and part of Chuka (Chinese-inspired Japanese) cuisine!
Tantanmen is believed to be inspired by a Szechuan dish called “Dandan mian” noodles. If you’ve tried dan dan noodles before, you might realize they’re pretty different from Japanese tantanmen. Dandan noodles are spicier and served in a thick sauce rather than a broth, and they use thin noodles rather than the curly yellow noodles used for ramen.
A Brief History of Tantanmen
The history goes back to one of the most famous Chinese-born chefs called “Chén Jiànmín (陳建民)”, who came to Japan in the 1950s. He is the most significant contributor to well-loved Chuka dishes in Japan. Tantanmen is one of the examples of dishes he introduced to Japan and modified to Japanese tastes.
Other famous dishes introduced by Chen include Mopo Tofu (麻婆豆腐), Ebi chili, and Ebi mayo. Since then, Tantanmen has been loved for decades, and now different forms of Tantanmen have been created in various regions across Japan, such as:
- Katsuura Tantanmen (Extra spicy and hot)
- Shirunashi Tantanmen (Soupless Tantanmen)
- Odawara Tantanmen (Thicker soup with a sweeter taste)
Of course, if you go to supermarkets or convenience stores in Japan, you will see multiple instant Tantanmen! This just shows how much we love Tantanmen!
Tantanmen VS Ramen: What are the differences?
You might be wondering if there are any differences between ramen and tantanmen. Long story short, there aren’t any. That is because ramen is just a broad term for Japanese noodle dishes inspired by Chinese cuisine, and tantanmen is just one example of many types of ramen.
For example, in Japan, if I say, “I want ramen in a restaurant,” I would be asked, “What kind of ramen?”. Each type of ramen has its own name and distinct broth, such as miso ramen, shoyu ramen, or shio ramen.
Ingredients and Substitution Ideas
For the ground meat:
- Green onion – Use the white part of the green onion, if possible. However, you may use the green part or substitute round onions if you prefer.
- Sesame oil – Adds nutty flavor and depth to the meat, as well as improves the texture when used for frying. I recommend Kadoya’s sesame oil.
- Ground pork – Tan tan ramen is always made with ground pork but can also be made with ground chicken or beef, depending on your preference.
- Sugar – Regular white sugar (caster or granulated) works fine, but I’ve been using light brown cane sugar for most dishes lately because it adds more depth.
- Soy sauce – If you are looking for something reasonably priced, you can’t go wrong with Kikkoman soy sauce. Please see our guide to soy sauce article to learn more about how to choose soy sauce in Japanese cuisine.
- Ginger and Garlic – Both are fresh and grated. You may also use garlic paste and ginger paste if it’s convenient for you.
- Chili bean sauce – This is a Chinese condiment called Toban Djan (豆板醤). I always use Lee Kum Kee brand.
For Tantan Broth:
- White sesame paste – This is called Nerigoma (練りごま) in Japanese. But if you can easily replace this with plain smooth peanut butter (which will taste fantastic!) or tahini!
- Ground sesame seeds – We call this Surigoma (すりごま) in Japanese. You can also grind sesame seeds yourself using a mortar and pestle!
- Tsuyu sauce – This condiment is based on soy sauce and flavored with sake, mirin and dashi broth. If you want to know how to make it, please see my tsuyu sauce recipe. You can also use soy sauce instead.
- Rice vinegar – It is used to add a slight sourness. I recommend Marukan’s rice vinegar. A readily available substitute in Western countries would be white vinegar.
- Chili oil – Sesame oil-based chili oil is best. I always use S&B’s layu.
- Chinese-style chicken bouillon powder – I use it as a base for the soup. I use Youki’s additive-free Garasupu all the time. You may substitute Western-style bouillon powder such as Knorr chicken bouillon cubes. For the amount/ratio, please see my tantanmen video.
Noodles and Toppings:
- Ramen noodles – It is best if you can get fresh ramen noodles. If such noodles are unavailable nearby, I recommend using my spaghetti ramen rack over dried instant noodles.
- Pak choi – Tantanmen and pak choi go well together but can be substituted with spinach or similar leafy green vegetables.
- Chopped green onions – Used for garnish. If you want to know how to cut them correctly, see our guide article on green onions.
- Chili oil or/and dried chili – Add more chili oil or dried chili if you want extra spiciness.
Tantanmen can easily be adjusted to suit plant-based diets. Swap the pork for ground tofu or “texturized vegetable protein” (TVP) and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
Here are my step-by-step instructions for how to make amazing Japanese tantanmen in just 15 minutes! For ingredient quantities and simplified instructions, scroll down to see the printable recipe.
Finely dice the green onion. Set aside half to cook with the pork and the other half to mix with the sauce later.
Heat a pan on medium and add sesame oil. Once hot, add ground pork (or ground meat of your choice) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry until the meat is sealed.
Once sealed, add finely diced green onion, grated garlic, grated ginger, sugar, soy sauce and the Chinese chili bean sauce.
Stir fry until all the liquid has gone and then remove from the heat. Place a lid on the pan to keep the meat warm while you prepare the broth and noodles.
Start boiling a pot of water to cook your noodles.
While you wait, take out one bowl for each serving and add the following to each bowl: 1 tbsp tsuyu (or soy sauce), 1 tsp ground sesame seeds, ¼ tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp chili oil, 2 tbsp sesame paste (or smooth peanut butter) and a sprinkle of finely chopped spring onion. Mix until well combined.
If making this recipe for a lot of people, save time by mixing the tare in a jug and then pouring an equal amount into each serving bowl.
Boil the water for the broth and mix in the Chinese chicken bouillon powder until dissolved. Pour an equal amount into each bowl and whisk to combine.
I make this recipe with pre-boiled noodles that only take 2 minutes to cook. To prevent the broth from going cold, do this step later if you are using noodles that take more than 5 minutes cook. (Alternatively, you can microwave the broth to reheat right before serving.)
Wash the pak choi and cut off the roots.
Once the pot of water comes to a rolling boil, add the noodles and set a timer for 1 minute less than the time stated on the packaging.
When the timer goes off, add the pak choi and blanch with the noodles for 1 minute.
Remove the pot from the heat and pour through a colander to drain the water.
Place a portion of noodles in each bowl and top with the seasoned pork mince.
Garnish with pak choi and thinly sliced green onion.
Ramen is generally not ideal for storing, but if you want to store leftovers, it is best to keep only the broth, not the noodles. Excess broth can be stored in a container in the refrigerator or freezer and later reheated on the stove or in the microwave.
To enjoy, cook fresh noodles and add them to the reheated broth. If refrigerated, the broth should be consumed within two days, and if frozen, within two weeks.
I hope you enjoy this quick and easy tantanmen recipe! If you try it out, I’d really appreciate it if you could spare a moment to let me know your thoughts by giving a review and star rating in the comments below. It’s also helpful to share any adjustments you made to the recipe with our other readers. Thank you!
More Ramen Recipes
Tantanmen (Tan Tan Ramen)
- Noodle strainer
- 4 tbsp white sesame paste (nerigoma) or smooth peanut butter
- 2 tsp ground sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp tsuyu sauce or soy sauce
- ½ tsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp chili oil
- 4 tsp Chinese-style chicken bouillon powder see note for vegetarian option
- 600 ml water
- 2 portions ramen noodles
- 100 g pak choi
- 2 tbsp green onion(s) green part, finely sliced to garnish
- chili oil
- Finely dice the white part of 30 g green onion(s).
- Heat a frying pan on medium heat and add 1 tsp sesame oil. Once hot, add 150 g ground pork with 1 pinch salt and pepper and fry until sealed.
- Add half of the finely diced green onion, 1 pinch sugar, 1 dash soy sauce, 1 tsp grated ginger, 1 tsp grated garlic and 1 tbsp chili bean sauce.
- Stir fry until the liquid is completely reduced, then remove from the heat and place a lid on top to keep it warm.
Tare and Broth
- Bring a pot of water to a boil for your noodles. While you wait, prepare the serving bowls and add the following to each bowl to make the "tare": 1 tbsp tsuyu (or soy sauce), 1 tsp ground sesame seeds, ¼ tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp chili oil, 2 tbsp sesame paste (or smooth peanut butter) and divide the other half of finely diced green onion between each bowl. Whisk thoroughly.
- Boil 600 ml water for the broth and mix in 4 tsp Chinese-style chicken bouillon powder. Mix until dissolved and then pour 300ml into each serving bowl. Mix until well combined. (If using dry noodles, I recommend doing this step later when the noodles are almost ready.)
- Wash 100 g pak choi and cut off the roots.
- Boil 2 portions ramen noodles and set a timer for 1 minute less than the time stated on the packaging.
- When the timer goes off, add the pak choi to the pot and cook for the remaining 1 minute. Remove from the heat and drain the water.
- Divide the noodles between each bowl and top with the seasoned pork.
- Place the blanched pak choi on top and garnish with 2 tbsp green onion(s) and a drizzle of chili oil.
Essentially, there are none. Ramen is a general term for Japanese noodles inspired by Chinese dishes, with tantanmen being one of many ramen types. In Japan, ordering “ramen” prompts the question, “What kind?” due to the variety, each with unique names and broths, like miso, shoyu, or shio ramen.
Tantanmen is a dish inspired by Chinese dan dan mian. Although they look and taste different, the origin of this dish is in China, and it was introduced to Japan and customized for the Japanese taste.
Unlike other shoyu and shio ramen, this noodle dish has a mixture of sweet and spicy flavors, and the soup is nutty and thick.