Tantanmen (汁なし坦々麺 – Soupless Tantanmen)
Tantanmen is a spicy variant of ramen that’s based on Chinese Dandan Mian. It’s traditionally made by infusing ramen broth with a spicy blend of chili oil and sesame paste. These days, a soupless variant called Tsuyunashi Tantanmen (literally “Tantanmen without soup”) has gained popularity, especially during the warmer months of the year.
Unlike most ramen noodle soups which can take hours or even days to prepare, this spicy ramen dish can be put together in about fifteen minutes.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Because there is no soup, the flavors of the caramelized aromatics and spices are not diluted.
- Grinding the katsuobushi into a powder provides boatloads of umami and the wonderful smoky flavor of dashi without having to make the stock.
- Making an aromatic-infused chili oil and using it to stir-fry the pork creates a ridiculous amount of umami while saving time.
- The creamy, nutty sesame sauce is a nice contrast to the spicy umami-packed ground pork topping.
Ingredients for Tsuyunashi Tantanmen
- Ground pork – The traditional meat to use here is pork, but this works with ground chicken or beef. If you wanted to make this pescatarian, you could also substitute a flavorful minced mushroom, like shiitake or maitake.
- Seasonings – I like to season the meat in advance. This avoids the mad rush of trying to get a bunch of ingredients into the pan while you’re sauteeing the meat. I use a mix of soy sauce, mirin, and Sichuan pepper to season the pork, which gives it a wonderful savory-sweet taste and a citrusy zing from the pepper.
- Aromatics – Chinese Dandan Mian often includes an aromatic oil as one of the components. It’s a great idea, but to keep the preparation of this dish as simple as possible, I’ve opted to infuse the oil with scallions, ginger, and garlic before stir-frying the pork in the same pan.
- Doubanjiang – Also known as Tobanjan in Japan, this is a spicy Chinese chili bean paste. If you can’t find it, most Asian-style chili paste will work. If you’re planning on substituting gochujang, I recommend using sake instead of mirin to marinate the pork since gochujang tends to be quite sweet.
- Sesame – There are three forms of sesame in my Tantanmen sauce, and they each bring something different to the party. Nerigoma (Japanese sesame paste) is made with unhulled toasted sesame seeds, which gives it a more complex flavor than tahini, which is made from hulled sesame seeds. That being said, either one will work, and they give the sauce a rich, creamy texture. I also like to add some freshly ground sesame seeds. This adds a little more texture to the sauce as it’s not fully ground into a paste while giving the sauce a more freshly roasted sesame fragrance. The final form of sesame is toasted sesame oil. It’s made by pressing toasted whole sesame seeds and has a robust roasted sesame flavor.
- Soy sauce – The majority of the seasoning comes from the stir-fried pork on top, but it’s still a good idea to have some seasoning in the sauce, which the soy sauce provides.
- Sugar – Whether it’s Japanese curry or chicken teriyaki, Japanese cuisine is often a balancing act between salty, umami, and sweet tastes, and the sugar, helps provide the balance in this sauce.
- Oil – Oil provides lubrication for the noodles, but rather than include plain vegetable oil; I’ve used the opportunity to use flavored oils. The first one is rayu, which is a Japanese-style chili oil that tends to be pretty mild. You can use any chili oil you have on hand, but you may need to adjust the amount depending on how spicy yours is. The second oil is sesame oil, which I’ve explained a little more about in the “Sesame” section above.
- Katsuobushi – This is my secret ingredient for my Tantanmen sauce. Katsuobushi usually comes shaved into thin flakes and is made from cooked, smoked, dried, and fermented skipjack tuna. It is rich in inosinic acid, which synergizes with glutamic acid in other foods to boost the taste of umami. That’s why it’s often paired with konbu (kelp) to make Japanese dashi stock. Because the sauce for this spicy ramen doesn’t need to be clear, I’ve found it’s faster and more potent just to powderize the katsuobushi and include it directly into the sauce. Unfortunately, there is no 1:1 plant-based substitution for katsuobushi that will get you the umami and flavor, so if you want to make this plant-based, you’re going to need to get a little creative. One idea that I’ve had is to cold-smoke konbu and then grind that up into a powder.
- Noodles – I like using thick-cut ramen noodles (such as those for tsukemen) for my Tsuyunashi Tantanmen, but any Asian-style wheat noodles will work for this dish.
How to Make Tsuyunashi Tantanmen
The first thing you want to do is marinate the ground pork with soy sauce, mirin, and Sichuan pepper. You don’t want to mash the ground meat into a paste as you mix the seasonings in, so I recommend mixing it using a pair of chopsticks.
For the sauce, you want to grind the katsuobushi and toasted sesame seeds into a powder. I do this using a mortar and pestle, but a clean spice grinder, blender, or food processor will work as well. This gets mixed with the sesame paste, soy sauce, sugar, rayu, and sesame oil to make a smooth paste, and then boiling water is added to make a creamy sauce.
The only tricky part about this recipe is to time boiling the noodles when the pork is done. My noodles took 3 minutes to cook, so I added them to the boiling water about halfway through making the pork.
For the pork, you want to make an aromatic oil first by sauteing about 80% of the scallions in vegetable oil and then adding in the grated ginger and garlic. Once the mixture has browned, add the doubanjiang and stir-fry for about twenty seconds to infuse the oil with heat.
Finally, the marinated pork goes into the pan, and you can use a chopping motion with the side of a spatula to break it up into small crumbs.
When the noodles are cooked, drain them well, but do not rinse them. Transfer the ramen to a bowl and toss them together with the Tantanmen sauce (tongs work best for this).
Plate up the spicy ramen and when the pork is cooked through, top the noodles with the savory pork.
I like to finish my Tsuyunashi Tantanmen with fried onions and some cayenne pepper which lends a nice texture and an extra fiery kick to the dish.
Other Ramen Recipes
Tsuyunashi Tantanmen (汁なし担々麺) is a variation of Tantanmen, which is the Japanese version of Dandan Mian. Although Tantanmen is usually served like ramen in soup, tsuyunashi (汁なし) literally means “without soup,” so this falls in the same category as other soupless ramen dishes such as aburasoba(油そば), mazésoba(混ぜそば), and mazémen(混ぜ麺). It’s most commonly served with a spicy sesame-based taré, or sauce, and it’s topped with a savory stir-fry of ground pork.
Tsuyunashi is 4-syllables and Tantanmen is 3-syllables pronounced as follows:
tsu like eat soup
yu like you
na like knob
shi like sheet
tan like tonic
tan like tonic
men like mend
It’s not clear who exactly created the soupless variety of Tantanmen, but it’s based on a noodle soup that’s generally credited to Chen Kenmin of Shisen Hanten. Chef Chen is known for adapting dishes from his native Sichuan province in China to suit the Japanese palate, and this spicy ramen is based on Dandan Mian (担担面). Since ramen was already a popular dish in Japan, the Chef used some of the flavors from Dandan Mian, such as sesame and chili oil but packaged them in the familiar format of ramen for his Japanese customers. These days, this soupless variety of the dish has become quite popular, which brings it closer to the Chinese original, but it still retains a unique Japanese taste signature.
No, most versions of this dish are going to contain meat. This particular recipe contains ground meat in the topping and powdered smoked fish in the sauce. The ground meat is easily substituted with a flavorful mushroom. On the other hand, the fish powder will be a little harder to replace as it is included to provide both umami and a slightly smoky flavor to do the sauce. This may require a bit of experimentation to come up with an alternative, but if you find a good solution, I’d love to hear about it.
This Tantanmen is pretty delicious as is, and I usually like to throw some fried onions on top for a bit of crunch and some extra cayenne pepper and ground Sichuan pepper for more punch. Other traditional toppings included boy Choy (which you can boil with the noodles), chopped peanuts, and ramen eggs.
- 150 grams ground pork
- 2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper optional
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 30 grams scallions 3 large scallions, minced
- 9 grams ginger grated
- 9 grams garlic grated
- 1 tablespoon Doubanjiang
- 1 tablespoon Japanese sesame paste tahini will also work
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons rayu
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 2 grams
- 1/4 cup boiling water
- 260 grams
- Fried onions optional
- Marinate the pork with soy sauce, mirin, and ground Sichuan pepper. Let this rest while you prepare the other ingredients.
- To make the Tantanmen sauce, grind the katsuobushi and toasted sesame seeds into a powder using a mortar and pestle or clean spice grinder.
- Add this mixture to a bowl along with the sesame paste, soy sauce, sugar, rayu, and sesame oil, and whisk it until it’s smooth and free of lumps. Whisk in the boiling water until you have a uniform sauce.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the ramen noodles. You’ll want to time adding the noodles to the water, so they’re finished around the same time your pork stir-fry is done.
- To make the pork topping for the Tantanmen, heat the vegetable oil over medium-low heat and add most scallions (save some for garnish). Saute these until they’re wilted and starting to brown around the edges.
- Add the grated ginger and garlic and saute the mixture until the aromatics are browned but not black.
- Add the doubanjiang and stir it into the oil until the oil is a vibrant orange color and the mixture is fragrant (about 20 seconds).
- Add the marinated pork to the pan and use a spatula to break up the meat into small crumbs. It’s ready when the pork is cooked through and crumbly.
- When the ramen is cooked, drain it well and then transfer it to a bowl. Stir the Tantanmen sauce and drizzle it over the noodles. Toss the noodles in the sauce to coat and then plate the ramen up.
- Divide the pork topping between the plates and then garnish with the reserved scallions. I also like to top my Tantanmen with fried onions and some cayenne pepper.