Cold & Spicy Sesame Noodles (Hiyashi Tantan Udon)
Summers in Japan can be characterized by the sweltering humidity and chorus of cicadas chirping, but it's also the season for cold noodle dishes. Hiyashi Tantan Udon is a cold sesame noodle dish that's a popular summertime menu item in noodle shops around Japan.
For my version, I use a juxtaposition of tastes, textures, and temperatures to create an appetite-boosting bowl of spicy noodles that only requires a few minutes of cooking on the stove.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using a mixture of chicken stock and soy milk for the sesame broth lends it loads of umami while boosting its richness.
- The contrast of the cool nutty soup with the spicy beef and chili oil on top gives these sesame noodles a richness that isn't cloying or heavy and the appetite-enhancing heat that won't make you sweat.
- The creamy soup, chewy noodles, crispy scallions, and crunchy sesame seeds provide layers of textures that makes this bowl of noodles enjoyable to the last bite.
Ingredients for Cold Sesame Noodles
- Sesame paste - It's best to use an East-Asian-style sesame paste such as Japanese nerigoma. These are made with whole toasted sesame seeds, which gives them a more fiber and a delightful nutty flavor. Tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds and has a slightly milder flavor, but it will work as a substitute.
- Chicken stock - Chicken stock adds umami to the sesame broth. Other types of stock will work, and you could even use dashi or vegetable stock. Just make sure the stock you use doesn't have too much collagen, or it will set solid like jello when chilled.
- Soy milk - Soy milk adds a mellow richness to the soup without making it heavy or cloying. You could substitute any kind of milk here, but plant-based milk works better than dairy.
- Toasted sesame oil - Toasted sesame oil is expeller pressed from toasted sesame seeds and has a wonderful nutty flavor. Because it's unrefined, it has a relatively low smoke point (similar to olive oil), so you need to be careful not to have the heat up too high, or it will burn.
- Aromatics - A mixture of grated garlic and ginger provides the oomph behind the spicy Tantanmen topping. You can also add some minced scallion stems or onions to the mixture if you like.
- Sichuan pepper - Sichuan pepper isn't related to black pepper or chili peppers, but the small red berries have a strong citrusy aroma and contain a compound that leaves a tingling sensation on your tongue. I love the fragrance it adds to Tantanmen, but if you're not into it, you can reduce the amount or exclude it.
- Ground beef - I use ground pork for my hot Tantanmen recipe, but for the chilled version, I prefer using lean ground beef. That's because ground pork has a ton of fat, which solidifies when chilled, giving the soup a gritty texture. You can avoid this issue by stir-frying lean ground beef with sesame oil, which will impart flavor without solidifying.
- Miso - Miso is a Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans and koji. You can learn more about the different types of miso here, but I've used yellow miso for this.
- Doubanjiang - Doubanjiang is a Chinese chili paste made from fermented fava beans and chili peppers. It's where the topping gets its heat from, and if you're into spicy foods, you can cut the amount of Doubanjiang back to suit your tastes. Other types of chili paste such as sambal oelek or sriracha can be substituted, but I like using Doubanjiang for this recipe because the fermented beans add a ton of umami and flavor.
- Oyster sauce - Oyster sauce adds contrasting savory and sweet tastes to the sesame noodle topping along with loads of umami.
- Udon - Udon is a thick Japanese wheat noodle with a very springy texture that's ideally suited for making cold sesame noodles. It can generally be found dried, fresh, or frozen, and if you want to try making the noodles from scratch, you can check out my homemade udon noodle tutorial. If you want to make this gluten-free you could substitute rice noodles for the udon.
- Scallions - Scallion greens add a beautiful splash of color to our bowl of chilled sesame noodles, but they also have a crispy texture and fresh onion flavor that's a great contrast to the nutty broth and spicy topping.
- Toasted sesame seeds - Toasted sesame seeds add another layer of nutty flavor and a fun crunchy texture to each slurp of noodles.
- Chili oil - Chili oil is called Rayu in Japanese, and I like using this bottled chili oil from Okinawa for this Hiyashi Tantan Udon. Another good option is to make homemade chili oil from scratch.
How to Make Cold Sesame Noodles
To prepare the chilled sesame broth, you want to mix the chicken stock into the nerigoma a little bit at a time. This is because sesame paste absorbs water, getting thicker before reaching a tipping point where it becomes thinner. If you add all of the liquid at once, it will seize up and form lumps that are very difficult to dissolve. If your broth ends up lumpy you can use a blender or whisk to smooth it out, but you want to avoid this if possible because you'll end up with a bunch of bubbles on top of the soup that are hard to get rid of.
Once you've got the sesame paste mixture to a point that it's pourable, add any remaining stock, along with the soy milk and salt. Stir these together until you have a smooth, creamy soup and the salt has fully dissolved. Next, cover the Tantan Udon soup and refrigerate it to chill. I recommend making this a few hours early, so it has time to get nice and cold.
When you're ready to make the sesame noodles, heat a large pot of water to boil the udon.
For the spicy Tantanmen topping, you want to heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and stir-fry the grated garlic and ginger in the toasted sesame oil for about a minute. The mixture should sizzle, but be careful not to have the heat up too high or it will burn and get bitter.
Add the ground Sichuan pepper and sugar to the pan and stir-fry for a few seconds to release the aroma of the pepper and caramelize the sugar. Next, toss the ground beef into the pan and break it into small crumbs by chopping it up with the side of a spatula.
Once the beef is fully cooked, add in the miso, doubanjiang, and oyster sauce. Toss and stir-fry the mixture together until the mixture is uniform in color. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
Depending on whether you're using frozen, dried, or fresh udon noodles, the time it will take to cook them will vary, so check the package instructions for the time. Once the udon is cooked, drain it into a strainer and swish them around under cold water to chill while removing any excess starch from the surface of the noodles.
Dump the noodles into a bowl of ice water and continue stirring until the noodles are ice cold. Drain the udon thoroughly and pick out any remaining bits of ice.
Split the udon between two bowls and divide the cold sesame broth between the two bowls.
To finish the cold sesame noodles, split the spicy beef between the two bowls. Garnish with the green parts of scallions, and toasted sesame seeds, and drizzle some chili oil on top of each one to taste. You can also serve the chili oil at the table so everyone can adjust the heat level of their Hiyashi Tantan Udon.
You can serve this with other veggies and herbs on top like cucumbers or cilantro.
Other Chilled Noodle Recipes
Cold sesame noodles can refer to several different noodle dishes that can trace their roots back to Sichuan Dandanmian (担担面) and Shanghainese Ma Jiang Mian (麻醬麵). Hiyashi Tantan Udon is a chilled variation of Japanese Tantanmen that's made by serving thick udon noodles in a cold sesame broth with a spicy meat topping.
Yes, it won't taste the same, but you can substitute smooth peanut butter without any added sugar for the sesame paste.
This recipe is not plant-based, but it's easy to make it vegan and vegetarian friendly. Just substitute the vegetable stock for the chicken stock. Use your favorite plant-based ground meat for the ground beef and substitute ½ tablespoon of soy sauce or tamari for the oyster sauce.
Cold Sesame Soup
- 3 tablespoons nerigoma (tahini will work)
- ½ cup low sodium chicken stock
- ½ cup soy milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
Spicy Beef Topping
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 10 grams garlic (1 large clove, grated)
- 8 grams ginger (small knob peeled & grated)
- ½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- 2 teaspoons evaporated cane sugar
- 150 grams ground beef
- 1 tablespoon miso
- 1 tablespoon doubanjiang
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- To make the cold sesame broth, add the nerigoma to a bowl and add a few tablespoons of the chicken stock. Stir the mixture until it forms a smooth paste, and then stir in a few more tablespoons of stock. Repeat until the mixture is smooth and pourable
- Add the remaining chicken stock, soy milk, and salt, and stir until the salt has dissolved. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the other components.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil for the udon noodles.
- Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the sesame oil, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry for about a minute until it's very fragrant.
- Add the Sichuan pepper and sugar and stir for a few seconds to combine.
- Add the ground beef and use the side of a spatula to break the meat up into small crumbles.
- When the beef is cooked, add the miso, doubanjiang, oyster sauce, and stir-fry until the seasonings are evenly distributed. Turn off the heat and set the spicy beef aside while you boil the noodles.
- Boil the noodles according to the package directions, and when they're done cooking, drain them and chill under cold running water. Dump the noodles into a bowl of ice water to thoroughly chill the udon and then drain thoroughly, removing any remaining chunks of ice.
- Divide the noodles between two bowls and then pour half of the chilled sesame broth over each bowl.
- Top each bowl of Tantan Udon with half of the spicy beef, half of the scallions, and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds. Finish the cold sesame noodles with a drizzle of your favorite chili oil to taste.