Japan Eats


Tantanmen is a popular noodle dish inspired by dandanmian, itself a spicy noodle soup originating in Szechuan Province of southwestern China. The taste of sesame is predominant in both, but unlike dandanmian, the Japanese variant is usually served as a soup.

The key to making this dish is speed. Its important to have the chicken broth and noodles ready at the same time. Leave the noodles too long and they’ll be overcooked. Serve the chicken broth too early and it will be lukewarm.

Steel yourself. This is going to be spicy...

Steel yourself. This is going to be spicy...

Ingredients (for 1 person)

  • 130g fresh Chinese noodles
  • 50g minced pork
  • 1/2 tablespoon tien mien djan
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon shao hsing wine (you can use sake instead)
  • 250cc chicken soup
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons white sesame paste
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese red chili oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped Chinese pickled cabbage
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons green onions (cut the white part of the green onion into small pieces)
  • 1/2 stalk of bock choy (Spinach can also used)


First take the sesame paste out of the refrigerator and let it warm to room temperature.

Pour 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil into a frying pan and warm it. Next, place the minced pork into the pan. Raise the heat and when the color changes, pour in the teaspoon of shao hsing wine, the teaspoon of soy and the 1/2 teaspoon of tien mien djan. Stir the liquid into the meat until it’s mixed together well.

Now take your ramen bowl (or large soup bowl) and pour in the 1 teaspoon of vinegar, the 2 1/2 tablespoons white sesame paste and the tablespoon of Chinese red chili oil. Don’t mix them or you’ll lose some of the sesame paste’s aroma.

Both the noodles and the chicken soup now have to be cooked at the same time.

Following the instruction on the side of the package, boil the noodles in a big pan. It’s important to cook the noodles quickly – consider cooking them for a shorter time than suggested on the package.  In a second saucepan, cook the chicken stock. There’s no real need to make this from scratch (but you can if you want to!). I usually use Wueipa or Youki, but any instant stock will do.

Once the chicken stock is ready, pour it into the ramen bowl and use a whisk to mix this and the other ingredients together. Ideally, the noodles will now be ready. Rinse them and lower them into the ramen bowl. Finally, decorate with Chinese pickled cabbage, green onion, bok choy and the minced pork.

Greasy Spoons (and Chopsticks): Gyudon Taro

greasyarticleimage copy“But Nick, baby, how could you do it?”

Hot water welled up in the dame’s big brown eyes.

“You wouldn’t catch it if I rolled it on the floor over to you, dollface. Let it go; stop askin’ me questions.”

“But Nicky, darling, I’m worried about you. It’s just not like you.”

“Don’t you think I know that, sweetheart? I’ve got an independent streak to make George Washington blush, but sometimes things ain’t so black and white.” Read more

Skewerless yakitori

Yakitori (grilled chicken) is of course one of the most popular Japanese dishes, both within Japan and overseas. Here in Tokyo, grilled chicken is most often cooked on skewers in front of an audience of appreciative patrons, often salarymen on their way home from work. Customers usually have the option of having their chicken with salt, or with tare sauce. For this recipe we’re going to be making tare.

We’re also going to be using a kind of Japanese griddle called a yakiami. They are relatively easy to find in Japan – try any supermarket or online at kakaku.com. Readers overseas might be able to pick one up here. Those unable to get their hands on one can use any kind of barbecue.

Skewerless yakitori

Skewerless yakitori

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 300g chicken (momo)
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 negi
  • 10 shishito
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red paprika

Tare sauce

  • 1/2 cup mirin (or just a little more-the re should be slightly more mirin than soy)
  • 1/2 cup soy


Cut the chicken and peppers into bite-sized pieces. Cut the negi into 3 to 4 cm lengths and the shiitake into halves. Use a toothpick and stab the shishito 2 or 3 times.

Next, wipe the yakiami down with a paper towel and a little oil to prevent the chicken from sticking to it. Place the yakiami onto the gas table and allow it to heat. Once it has begun to heat up, place the chicken on the tray. Allow this to cook before adding the negi and then other ingredients. The key thing is that you want each item on the grill to be finished cooking at the same time.

To prepare the sauce, pour the mirin into a frying pan and warm it. After talking the alcohol out, pour in the soy and cook until the mixture becomes starchy.

When everything on the grill is cooked, dip them into the tare sauce, covering them completely. Use chopsticks, not fingers! Place the ingredients on a dish and serve with kona sanscho (similar to Szechuan pepper).

All very easy. A few final tips:

Be careful not to overcook the vegetables. Other vegetables that will go well with the sauce include zucchini, okura and eringi mushrooms.

What we’re drinking: Nanbu Bijin

After a long day on the set of Japan Booze, Blind or Tokyo Bites, when meeting to write or plan the next step for Japan Eats, amid the vicissitudes of fortune, there is one constant; one thing in which Marcus, Christopher, and I can always find comfort, solace, and enjoyment: The Beautiful Southern Lady. Read more

What we’re drinking: Zamani Shochu

A treasure from Sukumo City!

A treasure from Sukumo City!

Last night I wrote about a cheap, plastic jar-encased shochu that didn’t have a whole lot of character other than the label promising that the contents might be a ‘treasure’.

Right now I’m sipping something a little bit more involved. I have a beautiful blue bottle of Zamani shochu from Kochi prefecture, and this is a drink where the taste matches the nose.

And I mean that in a good way. The nose has a sweet potato buzz in it and it has a nice shochu bite going down the hatch!

“Zamani”, a product of the city of Sukumo, means ‘very’ or ‘really’ in the local dialect, so I think that it’s only right to say that this shochu is zamani gorgeous!

I’m a big fan of how clean the mouthfeel and finish on this shochu are. The sweetness balances the alcohol nicely, and it is proving to be a very drinkable bottle right now.

As usual, I’m drinking my shochu neat, but don’t be afraid to throw it on some rocks or water it down a little bit. I would urge you, however, to give Zamani a shot straight up before mixing anything else in with it.

What we’re drinking: Takara Cup Shochu

Takara Cup Shochu (20 percent)I was a little bored, so I thought I’d give this little plastic cup a shot. It’s pretty easy to find in supermarkets anyway, so 200-some-odd yen and 30 minutes of my time didn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice for a drink whose name means ‘treasure cup’.

The smell when I unwrapped the plastic and unscrewed the blow lid let me know that I was indeed in for a bit of an adventure with some shochu. Not quite as sharp as Korea’s favorite drink, soju, this one wafted a slightly tamer and rounder version of that familiar “huh, this reminds me of the stuff I use to scrub the bathtub” smell.

But the bite was smoother than expected. It was surprisingly easy to drink, and there was very little of the expected burn going down.

The 20 on the lower right hand side of the plastic cup (jar?) indicates the alcohol by volume, and I believe that this little blue-topped number (it’s a business-card-and-a-half tall) has a redheaded cousin that clocks in at 25 percent. I may have to give that one a try just to see how it compares.

Boozehound: Tara no Oka (Nakano)

While Tokyo’s urbanization works its way West and the chain shops of the suburbs work their way into the center of town, variety and smallness go the way of Tora-san films and doing research in libraries – things people over a certain age remember and talk about, but things that just aren’t really around much anymore.boozehoundarticlelogo copy

Thankfully, there are some pockets of interest left around the city and one of those is the area North of Nakano Station east of Nakano-dori and south of Waseda-dori, centered on the narrow, pedestrians-only Fureai Road.

Go one block East of Fureai Road (make a right, then a left if you’re walking from Nakano Station), and two blocks South of Waseda-dori, on a corner on your left-hand side, facing you, you’ll see a green door and an unassuming green shingle reading: Tara no Oka. The Hill of Tara. Read more

What we’re drinking: Yamazaki 12y.o.

At around 3700 yen a bottle, Suntory is proud of their flagship single malt, as they should be.  If Kaku-bin is the whisky that made the Yamazaki distillery famous, Yamazaki 12 year old is the tipple that made Japan’s oldest whisky distillery its most prestigious. Read more

Greasy Spoons (and Chopsticks): Musashiya

greasyarticleimage copySinatra can have New York or Chicago. For old Nick, nothing sings of home like the chants of the yaki-imo hawker or the tofu kid of Tokyo and the sweetest part of that tune is the din of Shinbashi. Show me a man who knows a better place to be a man and I’ll show you a sucker.

Good, cheap eats are my game and walking out of Tokyo’s oldest station and into the stream of high lifes, low lifes, and no lifes that makes up this miasma of opportunity is no less a thrill than having some done up dame cross my threshold asking for help with her hands full of Suntory and Seven Stars.

Of all the greasy chopsticks to be tried in Tokyo, one above all takes the prize from bigger, better-known, and quirkier joints in their thousands: Read more

Daikon and pork cooked in soup

‘Butabara’ is the Japanese name for pork belly. It’s a rich cut, and one which goes well with a root vegetable like daikon. This soaks in the flavour, creating a wonderful broth. Ginger is added to offset the oiliness of the pork.

For this recipe, a casserole is ideal, however, if you don’t have one, you can make do with a stainless steel saucepan. Just be sure to be patient as using a regular saucepan will take longer.

Ingredients (serves 4)

Daikon and pork cooked in soup

Daikon and pork cooked in soup

  • Iron casserole dish
  • 1/2 to 1 whole daikon
  • 400g butabara (fatty pork belly)
  • 1 x ginger
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • Mirin
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 to 1/3 cup soy
  • Water


Peal the daikon and slice it up ‘rangiri’ style. Cut the pork into 5cm by 5cm pieces. Next, slice the ginger into thin pieces. Put the sesame oil into the pan and cook the pork, browning it on all sides.

Place the pieces of daikon in the pan and stir them so they are coated in oil. Cook them until the surface of the daikon becomes clear.

Add the ginger and then the sake and mirin to the mix. Next, pour enough water into the pan that the liquid doesn’t quite cover the ingredients (1cm or so).

Turn the heat up to to ‘full’ and once the mixture comes to the boil, turn the heat down and skim any gunk from the top of the mixture.

Let the soup cook on a gentle heat for 15 to 20 minutes, so that the ingredients have softened slightly and pour 1/3 cup soy into the pan.

Continue cooking so that the soup reduces 3 to 4 cm. Now slice another piece of ginger into thin strips and use it to garnish the dish. It is ready to serve.