Tantanmen

Our first encounter with tantanmen- the Japanese version of the chilli laced, sesame sauced Sichuan noodle dish dandanmian- came in a cramped ramenya down a nondescript backstreet in the Tokyo district of Shibuya.  Sat at a dimly lit wooden counter where the thick varnish had been worn away by decades of jostling elbows from hungry diners, the chef placed before us two deep bowls of noodles sunken beneath blush ivory coloured broth, swirled with a bright red slick of rāyu and a scattering of fried pork.  After the initial shock of the vibrant colours against the dark bowls we were struck by the rich, earthy sesame aroma followed by the sweet smell of long-simmered chicken stock.  One messy, clumsily slurped mouthful was all it took for us to fall head over heels for this red-faced cousin of the classic pork ramen; the tingly chilli-kissed lips only helped our feelings grow stronger.

Little known outside of Japan, tantanmen has become a staple in many noodle restaurants and as a quick to prepare dinner for rushed parents to whip up for their ever-hungry children after school.  Much like most other styles of ramen, a powerfully flavoured broth assisted by a couple of well cast supporting characters is the key to a memorable meal.  Homemade chicken stock is enhanced with creamy, nutty sesame paste to give an incredibly rounded flavour, then poured over deliciously toothsome chukamen noodles before being topped with intense, salty pork mince seasoned with miso and sake.  The whole dish is then drenched (or perhaps merely drizzled, depending on your feelings towards spiciness) in chilli infused rāyu oil to not only increase the heat levels, but also to boost the savoury flavours and add the fat needed to smooth out the consistency and texture of your noodles.

Incidentally, the miso seasoned pork mince is a fantastic meaty component to a bento, or it works incredibly well alongside some scrambled eggs as a topping for a bowl of rice to make an easy version of the classic soboro-don.

tantanmen
Tantanmen- as creamy and nutty as it is spicy and intense.

 

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Satsuma Imo Yōkan

Wagashi- traditional Japanese confectionery- tends to be an elegant and artistic representation of the season.   As we’ve recently passed the equinox and the cooler nights are starting to extend, nature is gradually turning from green to red and it’s time to embrace the change and eat something a little more Autumnal.  Alongside kabocha, mushrooms and persimmons, sweet potatoes are one of the key flavours that the Japanese look forward to eating during shokuyoku no aki or ‘the increased appetite of autumn’ and one of most popular ways to enjoy them is as a smooth, firm bar of imo yōkan.

Yōkan is one of the oldest forms of sweet still eaten regularly across Japan and is essentially a block of jellied mashed azuki beans, or in this case, mashed sweet potatoes.  We’ve enhanced our yōkan further with the addition of pieces of intense, almost chestnut-tasting, candied sweet potato to exaggerate the earthy, woodland flavour and add an extra texture to the jelly.  This delicately coloured, refreshing treat is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of matcha both in looks and taste, the sweet gel coating your mouth, balancing and rounding out the bitterness of the tea.

 

satsuma-imo-yokan
Satsuma Imo Yokan- the perfect autumnal accompaniment to a cup of matcha.

 

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