Tantanmen Ramen (担々麺)
Tantanmen is a local Japanese variant of Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles. It was originally created to cater to Japanese tastes, but it's developed into its own subgenre of ramen. These days, many Japanese noodle shops offer their own take, using their house broth as the base.
The key to any great ramen is in the broth, and Tantanmen is no exception. Ramen broths are usually made by boiling pork and or chicken bones for hours to get all of the flavor and collagen out of them. This is how you get the rich umami and unctuous mouthfeel of a good ramen broth. But I've found a few kitchen hacks to significantly reduce the time required to make a ramen shop quality Tantanmen in under thirty minutes.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Caramelizing a mixture of ginger, garlic, and ground pork with spices and seasonings creates an umami-packed soup base that fortifies store-bought chicken stock.
- Whisking the soup together with tahini creates a rich and creamy broth that tastes like you've been boiling bones for hours.
- By whisking the Tantanmen broth into the sesame mixture in the serving bowl, you get the best sesame flavor and avoid the risk of having the sesame paste curdle and separate.
Ingredients for Tantanmen
- The original Japanese Tantanmen was made with thinner straight noodles, but thinner noodles tend to go soggy faster, and I prefer the chewy texture of thicker curly ramen noodles. That being said, you can make this with whatever noodles you like. I've even seen Tantanmen being made with udon noodles here in Japan.
- Ground pork - Normally, ramen broth is made by boiling pork and chicken bones for hours, but by using ground pork and browning it very well, you're able to extract the maximum amount of flavor in the minimum amount of time.
- Scallion stems - I like to use just the white stem parts to keep the soup from having bits of browned scallion greens in it. I used Tokyo Negi, which has a very thick stem. Regular green onions will work fine, but you may need to use more of them than I did. Shallots or onion will also work as a substitute.
- Ginger & garlic - Along with the scallion stems, the ginger and garlic form a trifecta of aromatics. These get thoroughly browned, which creates dozens of new flavor compounds thanks to the Maillard reaction. To ensure the flavor from these disperse into the soup quickly, I recommend grating these rather than chopping them.
- Sichuan pepper - Sichuan pepper is not always added to Japanese Tantanmen, but I love the citrusy aroma and tongue-tingling texture. If you can't find it (or don't like it), you can skip this.
- Soy sauce - This is the primary seasoning for the soup.
- Doubanjiang - Doubanjiang is a fermented chili bean paste. The chili component adds heat to the soup, and fermented beans add a ton of umami. If you can't find it, you can use a different chili paste like sambal oelek or gochujang. I recommend avoiding vinegar-based hot sauces as the sourness won't taste right in the soup.
- Chicken stock - There's no need to get fancy here, but I recommend using real chicken stock (instead of bouillon cubes). You'll also want to make sure it's low sodium, so the soup doesn't get too salty from the other seasonings.
- Tahini - In Japan, nerigoma, which is made by grinding whole toasted sesame seeds into a paste, is used for Tantanmen. I used tahini because it's easier to find outside of Japan. It won't taste quite the same, but if you can't find tahini, unsweetened peanut butter will work in a pinch.
- Toasted sesame oil - Because tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds, its flavor is milder than Japanese nerigoma. Adding a little toasted sesame oil brings the flavor more in line with Japanese sesame paste.
- Toasted sesame seeds - For a triple dose of sesame, I also like to add some ground toasted sesame seeds to the broth for this spicy ramen.
- Rayu - Rayu is spicy chili oil; this contributes to the spiciness of the soup. If you can't find it, any chili oil should work in its place.
- Pork - Japanese Tantanmen is traditionally topped with ground pork instead of Chashu like other varieties of ramen. Although there are many variations on the topping, the original used a sweet seasoning to balance out the spicy soup.
- Tianmian sauce - This sweet Chinese condiment is rich and nutty and goes great with pork. Hoisin sauce has a similar taste profile and will work as a substitute if you can't find Tianmian sauce.
- Soy sauce - Tianmian sauce is much sweeter than salty, so I like to add a bit of soy sauce to balance out the sweetness.
- Greens - Tantanmen is usually topped with a type of mustard green called Komatsuna, but if you can't find it where you live, bok choy, mizuna, kale, or spinach are all suitable alternatives.
- Scallions - I like to top my spicy ramen with some chopped scallion greens, but this is optional.
How to Make Tantanmen Topping
First, you want to marinate the bigger portion of ground pork with the Tianmian sauce and soy sauce. You want the mixture to remain crumbly, so it's best to do this with chopsticks, using pork that's very cold.
Then, this gets stir-fried with some vegetable oil and broken up into small crumbs using a spatula or wooden paddle.
How to Make Tantanmen Taré
To make the tare, grind the toasted sesame seeds. You can use a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, food processor, or blender to do this. Next, add the ground sesame seeds along with the tahini, rayu, and toasted sesame oil to your serving bowl. If you're making more than one portion, you can whisk these ingredients together in one bowl and then divide the taré evenly between your serving bowls.
How to make Tantanmen Broth
For the broth, you can reuse the same frying pan you used for stir-frying the topping without washing it (just make sure it's big enough to hold all of the chicken stock).
Stir-fry the remaining ground pork, scallion stems, ginger, and garlic while breaking the pork up into small crumbs until the meat is fully cooked. Add the Sichuan pepper, soy sauce, and doubanjiang and continue stir-frying until all of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture starts to caramelize.
Add the chicken stock to the pan and bring the mixture to a boil.
Pour the hot soup into your serving bowl(s) with the taré and use a whisk or stick blender to emulsify the mixture into a creamy broth.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the greens.
Boil the noodles according to the time specified on the package in the water you used to blanch the greens.
Drain the noodles and add them to the soup. Top your Tantanmen with the pork topping as well as the greens and some chopped scallions for garnish.
Other Ramen Recipes
Tantanmen (担々麺) is a Japanese noodle dish that can be prepared as a soup or dry. It's based on Sichuan Dandanmian, which is a fiery sesame noodle dish from China. The Japanese version is said to have been popularized by Chef Chen Kenmin of Shisenhanten. Chef Chen is famous for popularizing many Sichuan specialties, including Mabo Dofu and Chili Shrimp in Japan, by adapting the flavor profile of the dishes to better suit Japanese tastes. For Tantanmen, he localized the dish by serving it as a noodle soup and reducing the spiciness. He also topped it with sweet and savory stir-fried ground pork. This spicy ramen recipe uses the classic flavor profile of Japanese Tantanmen as the base, but I love spicy foods and have added some of the heat back in my version.
Tantanmen means "tantan noodles" in Japanese, so it's usually not suffixed with the word "ramen." Although it often appears on the menu at ramen shops, it does not fit within the usual ramen categories such as shoyu, miso, or tonkotsu.
Tantanmen is a 3-syllable name that's pronounced as follows:
tan like tongs
tan like tongs
men like menu
Like most ramen, the broth for Tantanmen is a mixture of broth and taré. To save time and yet still get the flavor of a long-cooked broth, I use chicken broth that's been fortified with browned aromatics such as garlic, ginger, and scallions, along with some ground pork. The taré component of this spicy ramen is sesame seeds in various forms. I use a combination of tahini, ground toasted sesame seeds, and sesame oil, along with a bit of rayu to bring the heat.
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 50 grams ground pork
- 2 teaspoons Tianmian sauce (or hoisin sauce)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (7 grams ground)
- 1 ½ tablespoons tahini
- 1 teaspoon rayu (or other chili oil)
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 25 grams ground pork
- 20 grams scallion stems (2 stems, minced)
- 5 grams ginger (grated)
- 5 grams garlic (grated)
- ¼ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper (optional)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons doubanjiang
- 1 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
- 130 grams fresh ramen noodles
- Spinach (or mustard greens)
- Mix the Tianmian sauce and soy sauce into the ground pork to marinate.
- Grind the toasted sesame seeds using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and add them to your serving bowl along with the tahini, rayu, and toasted sesame oil.
- Set a pot of water on the stove to boil. When the water comes to a boil, blanch the spinach or mustard greens, chill in cold water, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Do not drain the boiling water.
- To make the Nikumiso, add a teaspoon of vegetable oil to a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the marinated ground pork and stir-fry, using a spatula to break up the pork into small crumbs. When the meat is cooked, transfer it out of the pan and into a bowl.
- Put the pan back on the heat and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil along with the remaining 25 grams of ground pork, minced scallion stems, ginger, and garlic. Stir-fry the mixture, breaking up the pork into small crumbles with a spatula.
- When the meat is cooked, add the Sichuan pepper, soy sauce, and doubanjiang. Continue stir-frying until all of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture starts to brown.
- Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat to keep the soup warm.
- Boil the ramen noodles according to the package directions.
- When the noodles are almost done, turn up the heat on the soup to return it to a boil. Whisk the hot soup into the sesame sauce in the serving bowl.
- Drain the ramen and add it to the soup.
- Top the Tantanmen with the Nikumiso and garnish with mustard greens and scallions.