Japan Eats

Recipe: Tsukemen (dipping noodles)

Tsukemen may have started out as summer dish, but you can eat it all year round.

Tsukemen is a dish featuring ramen-style noodles, a dipping sauce and usually some kind of garnish. Served separately, it’s the diner who dips the cool or luke-warm noodles in the hot soup. It’s a fun twist on ramen, and increasing popular in Japan, particularly in Tokyo where the dish is said to have originated.

Tsukemen

Tsukemen

This particular recipe has a distinctly Chinese flavor, thanks to the mix of chilli bean paste and tianmianjiang sauce. Note that the soup should be a little salty as the noodles and garnish will water down the flavor. Experiment with boiled cabbage, boiled spinach and fresh coriander as a garnish.

This dish involves a little preparation, but comes together quickly at the end.

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4 people)

Tsukejiru (soup)

  • 100 – 130 g minced pork
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped ginger
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons of doubanjiang (Chinese chilli bean paste)
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons of douchijiang (blackbean chilli paste)
  • 400 ml chicken soup stock
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of tianmianjiang (sweet soybean paste)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of roughly chopped green onion
  • 2 – 3 pinches of black pepper

Garnish

  • 50 g string beans
  • 50 g carrot
  • 100 g bean sprouts
  • 30 g radish sprouts
  • 10 stalks Asatsuki chives

Noodles

  • 100 – 120 g Chinese noodles per person

Method

First prepare the garnish. Cut off both sides of the string beans. Place a pan with 4 – 5 cups of water on a high heat. Once it comes to the boil, add a pinch of salt and boil the string beans for 3 – 4 minutes. Drain and cool them down in a bowl of cold water; drain again and cut them diagonally into 4 – 5 cm lengths.

Cut the carrot into 4 – 5 cm sections. Cut lengthwise, with the grain, so that you can create rectangles 2 mm thick. Now lay them on their sides and slice them again so they form 2 mm x 2 mm strips. Place a pan with 2 – 3 cups of water on a high heat. Once it comes to the boil, add a pinch of salt and boil the carrot for 1 minute. Drain and cool in a bowl of cold water, drain again.

Put the bean sprouts in a bowl and cover them with water to prevent the color changing. Pluck away the roots. Place a pan with 4 – 5 cups of water on a high heat and once it comes to the boil, cook the bean sprouts for 1 minute. Drain and cool them in a basket.

Cut the roots from 30 g of radish sprouts and rinse them in cold water.

Cut the asatsuki chives into 4 – 5 cm lengths.

Place a small pot (enough to hold 500 – 600 ml) with 1 table spoon of sesame oil on a low heat. Once it has become warm, add the finely chopped garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 – 2 mins. Add the minced pork, turn the heat up to medium and cook well. Turn the heat down to low and add 1 – 2 teaspoons of doubanjiang and douchijiang. Mix and sauté for another 1 – 2 min until the mixture gives off a spicy aroma.

Now add the 400 ml of chicken stock. Once it comes to the boil, add 2 tablespoons of sake, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 2 – 3 tablespoons tianmianjiang and 2 – 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and mix well.

Turn off the heat, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of roughly chopped green onion and 2 – 3 pinches of black pepper.

Finally, cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain them and cool in a bowl of cold water. Wash the noodles carefully while still in the bowl, changing the water a couple of times so you can remove the starch.

Serve the noodles, garnish and soup separately. When eating, choose your favorite garnish and place it in the soup with the noodles.

Recipe: Suratanmen (hot and sour soup with noodles)

It’s spicy. It’s sour. It’s suratanmen.

Also known as sanratanmen, this sweet and sour noodle dish is a popular Japanese adaptation of the Chinese classic.

Much of its flavor derives from the black vinegar, which adds umami and a mild acidity. As the acidity of the vinegar will dissipate during the cooking process, a dash added to the soup just as soon as you turn off the heat will bring some added flavor.

Suratanmen

Suratanmen

When you cook noodle dishes, preparation is very important. In order to serve the dish quickly, prepare the ingredients before you actually start cooking. It’s all in the timing!

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 240 g of ramen noodles
  • 30 – 40 g carrot
  • 30 g shiitake mushrooms
  • 30 -40 g bamboo shoots (boiled)
  • 2 – 3 g dried kikurage (wood ear)
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of shokoshu (Chinese sake)
  • 1 teaspoon of potato starch
  • 60 – 70 g pork (sliced into strips 2 -3 mm thick)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 egg
Soup
  • 700 ml of chicken soup stock
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of black vinegar

Soup seasoning

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon shokoshu
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Garnish
  • Cilantro (coriander)
  • Black pepper
  • Rayu (chili oil)

Method

Cut the carrots into 4 – 5 cm lengths. Cut them lengthwise with the grain, so that you create rectangles about 2 mm thick. Now lay them on their sides and slice them again so they form 2 mm x 2 mm strips. Next, prepare the bamboo shoots. You may find boiled bamboo shoots at the supermarket. If they are already cut into thin slices, you don’t need to do anything but remove the water. If they don’t come pre-sliced, cut them up so they are in pieces roughly the same size as the carrot.

Next, slice the shiitake mushrooms into pieces 2 mm thick and soak the (presumably dried) ears of kikurage in 200 ml of cold water to rehydrate them.

Now we’re going to prepare the pork. Slice it into strips 2 – 3 mm thick, then place the pieces in a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of shokoshu (or Japanese sake if shokoshu is unavailable) and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Gently mix the pieces of pork with your fingers so that they absorb the sauce. Add 1 teaspoon of potato starch and mix again. Once the pork is coated in this preliminary seasoning it will maintain its umami flavor throughout the cooking process.

Prepare a second bowl with the ingredients for the soup seasoning. 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of shokoshu and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and mix well.

Take a cup or small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of potato starch and 1 table spoon of cold water. Mix well. This will be your starchy sauce.

Next comes the soup itself. Place a large pot with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil on a low heat. Once it has warmed, add the pork and sauté for 1 – 2 minutes, then add the carrot and bamboo shoots. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes so that the pork is cooked through.

Add 700 ml of chicken stock and turn the heat up to medium. Once it comes to the boil, add the soup seasoning, a pinch of salt (to taste) and black pepper, mix well then turn the heat down to low and cook for another 3 – 4 minutes.

Return to the starchy sauce and give it another quick stir before pouring it into the pot.

At about this point you want to start cooking the noodles according to the directions on the packet.

Break an egg into a small bowl and mix it well. Gently pour the egg into the soup. Do so slowly, stirring the soup with your other hand. At this point be sure that the soup is on a gentle boil.

Once all of the egg mixture is in the soup, turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of black vinegar. Mix the soup well.

Drain the noodles and place them in a serving bowl. Pour half of the soup over the noodles, then sprinkle a pinch of black pepper followed by 1 – 2 teaspoons of rayu. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.

Restaurant Review: Yama to ten (Shinjuku)

Soupless in Shinjuku

Spicy abura soba

Spicy abura soba

Abura soba shops are popping up all over town these days. A lot of the shops that specialize in this soupless style of ramen serve abura soba and not a whole lot else. The fact that restaurants can have only one item on the menu is clear testament to the popularity of this dish.

Yama to ten (山ト天) in Shinjuku diversifies a bit by featuring a few in-house versions of abura soba as the centerpiece of a modest izakaya menu.

Highly recommended is the spicy abura soba (辛味温玉) which will set you back 600 yen. Heap some freshly chopped onions on top, douse the whole thing with vinegar and raayu, and then mix it all together with your chopsticks. The soft ramen noodles soak up the oils nicely, and they play well with the onions, chashu, bamboo shoots and shredded bits of dried seaweed.

There’s also the standard abura soba for 500 yen and a couple of other options that usually run in the 600-700 yen range.  For those who are better with colors than with kanji, the spicy abura soba is the big button at the top of the ticket machine that has a red background (second from the left).

The shop’s modest menu is also tucked full of izakaya-style dishes that go well with a beer. Everything from gyoza (380-480 yen) to a side of kimchi (290 yen) to sausages (480 yen). A draft beer goes for 420 yen, and the rest of the drinks menu mostly deals with shochu-base drinks such as sours, hais and umeshu (most are 380 yen). You can also order a half bottle of house wine for 980.

Because it’s an izakaya, the whole place is smoker-friendly. If you’d like to avoid the fumes, then we suggest stopping by after the busiest lunch hours and before business picks up again at around 6 PM. They have some tables off to the sides of the counter that are mostly untouched by smoke when the place isn’t busy.

Directions: Yama to ten is part of a new izakaya-themed, mostly open-plan dining area on the MB3 floor (the ‘M’ is not a typo) of Odakyu Halc. In other words, go to Bic Camera near JR Shinjuku west exit and head downstairs. The main entrance is down the stairs that are located near the B2 entrance of Odakyu Halc supermarket.

Tel:03-6302-0405
Odakyu Halc (Haru Chika)
Hours: 11:00 – 24:00 ( LO 23:30 )
Tabelog review (Japanese): http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1304/A130401/13119474/


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Restaurant Review: Ivan Ramen (Rokakoen Station)

Christopher Pellegrini samples the noodles at Ivan Ramen

You should definitely try Orkin's roasted tomatoes (Roast Tomato Meshi).

Ramen is one of those dishes that people will travel considerable distances to consume. It’s kind of like the trouble die-hard fanboys go to when trying to get their hands on a freshly released edition of a franchise–they’ll wait in line for it. They’ll make plans days in advance to be in another part of the country just to have dibs on the best seats for the big event.

And if you understand that, then you can comprehend with reasonable accuracy the lengths to which true ramen fans will pursue their addiction. They’re as obsessive as any other foodie out there, and in many cases more so.

And while I’m not the fanboy type, I must admit that I planned nearly a week in advance to visit Ivan Ramen, a corner ramen shop less than 10 minutes on foot from Rokakoen station in Setagaya Ward (Keio Line) that is owned by American chef, Ivan Orkin.

The shop is a very simple square with an L-shaped counter and space for about 10 customers. There is nothing significant going on with the decor, and the concrete-floored kitchen space is both well-organized and spotless. The focus is clearly on the food at Ivan Ramen, and that’s how it should be.

Ivan Orkin is something of a celebrity both for successfully wedging his way into the secretive ramen world here in Japan and for doing things his own way. His ramen soup is not rammed with lard as is customary, and he makes his own noodles with a dough that utilizes three types of flour. There’s also a very strong dependence on fresh ingredients. In that sense, even though this is technically ‘B-class’ Japanese cuisine, and is often referred to as fast food, dining at Ivan Ramen does not exact as much of an attack on one’s health as ramen customarily can.

After ordering your food from a ticket machine out in the alley, diners are encouraged to find a seat and enjoy the soft music playing in the background for just a couple of minutes. Jazz was on the airwaves when we visited, and we were grateful for the attention to detail on the proprietor’s part.

The wait doesn’t last long at Ivan Ramen. Most orders will be in front of you in less than a couple of minutes. Ivan himself explained recently in the first edition of Lucky Peach that his ramen noodles take 40 seconds to boil, but we were still surprised how quickly our meals arrived.

One special currently on the menu at Ivan Ramen is the “Fresh Salad Hiyashi Chuka” which is a blend of garden

Fresh Salad Hiyashi Chuka Ramen

salad and cold soup and all with a bit of Chinese cooking thrown in for good measure. And we were pleased that we grabbed one of these (only 15 are served daily) because the freshness of the ingredients (the tomatoes are absolutely out of this world!) and the marriage of the soup and noodles led to an exceptional and filling meal.

It’s important to note that the specials change regularly, so it’s worth it to either check the restaurant’s website or make a return visit every once in a while.

We also tried the Cha-shu- Spicy Red Chili Men (noodles) and the Roast Tomoto Meshi (rice). The former features the house’s signature thin ramen noodles and a small puddle of chili soup with half of a hard-boiled egg bobbing in the shallows. The regular menu also sports several shio and shoyu-base ramen dishes, tsukemen, other sides, a ‘beer of the day’ for 400 yen, and homemade ice cream.

Ramen dishes are mostly priced between 800 and 1,000 yen with topping upgrades such as extra cha-shu- and menma costing 100 yen each. A range of rice bowls range from 200 to 800 yen and are available in two sizes.

It’s very difficult to go wrong at Ivan Ramen. We would highly recommend anything with Orkin’s roasted tomatoes in it. The preponderance of fresh and healthy ingredients in Orkin’s creations will make you rethink whether ramen is a Japanese version of fast food.

And for those who enjoy the innovation that is part and parcel with his take on ramen, then you are encouraged to visit Ivan Ramen Plus, a second shop that he opened last year.

3-24-7 Minami Karasuyama, Setagaya-ku Tokyo, 157-0062
(Rokakoen station on the Keio Line)
Ph: 03-6750-5540
Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri 5:30 PM – 10:30 PM (closed Wednesdays)
Sat, Sun and Nat’l Holidays 11:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Also closed the 4th Tuesday of every month.
http://www.ivanramen.com/top_en.html


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Recipe: Nibuta (braised pork shoulder)

The perfect addition to that bowl of homemade ramen

Ever wondered how to prepare those succulent slices of pork that sit atop ramen? There are two basic approaches to preparing char siu (Chinese) or chashu (Japanese) pork.

The Chinese method is to cut the pork into strips and roast it in an oven or over a fire. It is seasoned with a mixture of honey, soy sauce and five-spice powder.

In Japan, the pork is more often prepared by cooking fatty cuts of pork on a low heat in a heavy iron pot such as a dutch oven (what the British would call a casserole dish). After the meat has cooked for several hours with aromatics such as garlic and ginger,  it is allowed to cool before being cut into slices. The resulting nibuta (braised) pork can be served on its own, or over the ubiquitous ramen noodles.

This recipe may also be prepared in a pressure cooker, but I prefer using an enameled cast iron pot such as those from Staub.

Nibutta: braised pork shoulder

Nibutta: braised pork shoulder

Ingredients (serves 4-8)

  • 1.5 kg pork loin (700 – 800 g loaf of pork loin)
  • 150 g onion (1 whole onion)
  • 250 g green onion (2 whole green onions)
  • 40 – 50 g garlic (4 -5 cloves of garlic)
  • 40 – 50 g ginger
  • 2 red peppers (dried, without seeds)
  • 400 ml sake
  • 100 ml mirin
  • 300 ml soy sauce
  • 300 ml water
  • 5 tablespoons of sugar
  • String for cooking

Method

First, tie each piece of meat so that it fits into your iron pot. Warm a flying pan on a high heat (without oil) and brown the pork well on all sides.

Next, place the meat into the iron pot. Crush the garlic using the flat part of a knife and remove the skin and any sprouts. Roughly peel the skin from the ginger slice into pieces 1 -2 mm thick. Cut off the green part of the green onion. Put all of the ingredients into the pot around the meat. Add the red pepper, sake, mirin, soy sauce and water.

Now peel the onion and cut it in half vertically. Place the pieces into the pot. Warm the iron dish on a medium heat. Once the soup becomes hot, add the sugar and let it dissolve.

Finally add water (not included in the ingredients list)  until the liquid covers the meat. Warm the pot on a medium to high heat.  Once the ingredients have come to the boil, lower the heat and cover with a lid.

One hour later, turn over the pork. An hour after that, turn the pork over again. Turn off the heat and leave the pot for 4 – 5 hours. As the ingredients cook, skim the lard from the top of the soup.

Once the pork has cooled, slice the pork (otherwise it will simply fall apart under the knife).

Finally, cut the white part of the green onion diagonally into pieces 2 -3 mm thick. Warm the soup and add the onion. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Present the sliced pork with the green onion and pour soup over the top of the pork.

A boiled egg would be great addition to the pork on a dish of noodles.

Thai noodle salad

Again with the nampla!

This week, a variation on the classic Thai glass-noodle salad (yum woon sen). This dish works well as a kind of otsumami (small dish to accompany alcohol) – the zest of the lemon juice and the spice of the peppers loose nothing after a few glasses of beer or shochu.

This particular recipe uses ingredients which are readily available in Japan. For a more authentic Thai flavor, exchange limes for lemons and add extra peppers. Also, in Thailand the coriander root is used to give the sauce even greater flavor. If you want to try this, use a mortar and pestle to crush a coriander root together with the chopped red pepper, then add fish sauce, sugar and lemon/lime juice.

Thai noodle salad

Thai noodle salad

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 50 g cellophane noodles (bean threads)
  • 100 – 120 g cabbage
  • 60 – 70 g celery (including leaves)
  • 50 g red onion
  • 100 g shrimp
  • 100 g ground pork
  • 10 – 15 g coriander

Salad dressing

  • 3 table spoons of Thai fish sauce
  • 1 and 1/2 tea spoons of sugar
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (1/2 a lemon)
  • 1 – 2 red peppers

Method

Cut the cabbage into thin strips and the red onion into thin slices. Next, slice the celery stems diagonally and the leaves into large pieces.

Chop the coriander stems finely and cut the leaves into large pieces.

Place all of the vegetables into a large salad bowl, roughly 25 cm in diameter.

Wash the shrimp carefully and boil them. When cooked, drain and cool so that the shells can be removed.

Pour 2 cups of water into a small pan and bring it to the boil. Next, put the ground pork into the pan and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes, stirring so as to break it up.

Before cooking the cellophane noodles, prepare the salad dressing. Remove the stalk and seeds from the red pepper and cut into 5 mm pieces. Place these in a small bowl.

Add fish sauce, sugar and mix together with the peppers. Finally, add lemon juice and mix together roughly.

Place a pan with 4 -5 cups of water onto a high heat. Once it has come to the boil, place the cellophane noodles into the pan and cook for about 3 minutes. Once cooked, drain the noodles and cut them into lengths of about 10 cm. Place in the salad bowl.

While the cellophane noodles are still warm, pour the dressing over the ingredients and mix together by hand. Serve with a garnish of coriander leaves.

Recipe: Japchae

Japchae is a popular Korean dish which mixes stir-fried cellophane noodles with beef and vegetables.

In Japan, cellophane noodles are referred to as harusame (literally “spring rain.”) Made from either green beans or sweet potato, they are commonly used in deep fried spring rolls, salads, or as an ingredient in Chinese style soup dishes.

To make japchae, you don’t need to have all the ingredients, but a combination of beef, onion, carrot, cucumber and shiitake mushrooms works best. You may also experiment by adding your own favorite vegetables (I sometimes add zucchini).

Japchae

Japchae

Ingredients (serves four)

  • 80 g harusame noodles
  • 50 g onion
  • 50 g carrot
  • 100 g cucumber
  • 50 g shiitake mushrooms
  • 50 g green pepper
  • 50 g red pepper
  • 50 g sliced beef
  • 100 g spinach

Marinade

  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sake
  • 1 tablespoon of mirin
  • 1 tablespoon of finely minced green onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of ground sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of grated garlic
  • 1-2 pinches of pepper

Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of grounded sesame seeds
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce

Method

Cut the sliced beef into thin strips. Next, cut away the shiitake stems and slice them into thin strips.

Mix the ingredients of the marinade and marinate the beef and shiitake mushrooms for 20-30 minutes.

Place a pot with water on a high heat. When it comes to the boil, cook the spinach for 30 seconds, then place it into a bowl of cold water. Squeeze the spinach and remove any liquid. Cut into strips 3cm in length.

Next, slide the cucumber into thin strips and place these into a bowl together with a pinch of salt and mix. When they have become soft, remove the moisture.

Cut the carrot, green and red pepper into thin strips. Now slice the onion thinly in the direction of the grain.

Place a pot with water on a high heat. Once it has come to the boil, cook the harusame one minute short of the directions on the package. Once the harusame is cooked, drain the hot water and cut them roughly into bite sized pieces. Place the noodles into a bowl, mix with the sauce and allow them to cool.

Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a pan and stir-fry the onion, carrot, green pepper, red pepper and cucumber together with 2-3 pinches of salt and pepper. Now pour into the bowl of harusame.

Using the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and stir-fry the marinated beef and shiitake mushrooms with the sauce and then pour these ingredients into the bowl of harusame.

Finally, mix all the ingredients. Serve with ground sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Recipe: Hiyashi soumen

With the arrival of summer, Japanese are increasingly looking towards light meals at lunchtime. A bowl of soumen (cold noodles) is one of the most popular ways to relieve the summer heat.

Soumen is traditionally served with a large variety of yakumi, or condiments. While it may be tempting to cut back on the number of different garnishes, it’s worth trying all of the yakumi listed below at least once so that you can better judge which you prefer.

Serve the noodles on ice in a wooden bowl.  Pour a little soup into each guest’s bowl and allow them to choose their own condiments, which they mix into the soup.  Finally, guests add noodles which they should mix together with the yakumi.

Itadakimasu!!

Soumen

Soumen

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 3 bunches of dried soumen
  • 1-1.5l water

Yakumi (condiments)

  • 1-2 mioga (mioga ginger)
  • 10 asatsuki chives
  • 4-5 green shiso (green perilla) leaves
  • 1 package of kaiware daikon (radish sprouts)
  • 1 deep-fried tofu pouch
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sake
  • 1 teaspoon of shichimi togarashi (a mixture of red pepper and six other spices)
  • 1 clove of ginger

Tsuyu soup

  • 2 cups of dashi soup
  • 1/2 a cup of soy sauce
  • 1/2 a cup of mirin

Method

First prepare the tsuyu soup. Pour the mirin into a pan, place it onto the gas table and bring it to the boil. Add the dashi soup together with the soy sauce and bring it to the boil again. Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow it to cool.

Now for the yakumi (garnishes). Cut the mioga in half lengthwise and then again into thin strips. Rise  in a bowl of cold water for a minute then drain.

Cut the asatsuki chives into thin round slices.

Slice the green shiso leaves into julienne strips, rinse them in a bowl of cold water and drain.

Peel the skin of the ginger grate it.

Cut off the root of the kaiware daikon, then cut into halves.

Toast one deep-fried tofu pouch for about one minute. Mix a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sake and a teaspoon of shichimi togarashi and spread onto one side of the tofu pouch. Toast it again for about one minute until it becomes crispy. Finally, cut the pouch into bite-sized rectangles (12-16).

Bring a bowl of water to the boil and cook the soumen noodles for roughly two minutes (refer to the cooking instructions on the package). If the water rolls up to the edge of the pot, add a half cup of cold water. Once the noodles are ready, rinse them in running fresh water.

Place water and ice in a wooden bowl and arrange the noodles so that they don’t stick together.

Serve the noodles with the tsuyu (soup) and condiments in individual plates or bowls.

Kizami Udon

This dish is a particularly healthy combination of deep-fried tofu, udon noodles and green onion.

There are two kinds of udon dishes that use deep-fried tofu as a garnish. One is kitsune udon – in which the deep-fried tofu is soaked in a soup of sweet sauce before being used to garnish udon in dashi soup.

The other is kizami udon, where the deep-fried tofu is toasted rather than soaked in a sauce. The result is a light, fresh and textured dish – the crispyness of tofu balancing the soft udon.

Kizami Udon

Kizami Udon

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 portions fresh udon noodles
  • 1 piece of deep-fried tofu
  • 1/3 of a naganegi (green onion)
  • 4 to 5 stalks of asatsuki chives

Udon soup

  • 4 cups of water
  • 10cm of kombu (kelp)
  • 30g dried bonito flakes
  • 3 tablespoons sake
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin

Method

First, we’re going to cook the udon soup.

Pour the water into a pot and add the kombu (kelp). Bring the water to the boil over a medium heat. The kombu must be removed from the pot immediately before coming to the boil.

When it comes to the boil, add the dried bonito flakes. Boil these briefly and then turn off the heat.

When all the flakes have set on the bottom of the pot, strain the mixture through a cloth. Pour this strained stock (dashi) into a pot, then bring it to the boil. Add the sake, soy sauce, salt and mirin and boil it briefly.

Cut the green onion (naganegi) into very thin diagonal slices and place them into a bowl of cold water for one minute . When they have finished soaking, drain them and put them aside.

Next, finely chop the chives and put them into a small bowl. The chives, together with the onion, will be used later to garnish the dish.

Put the dried-tofu into an oven toaster and toast it for 3 minutes until the surface is browned. Slice the crispy dried-tofu into rectangles.

Next, boil the water in a pot and warm the udon based on the recipe printed on the package and then drain the noodles.

Place the udon in the serving bowls and pour the soup over the noodles. Now lay the sliced tofu on top of the noodles and garnish with the green onion and chives.

Finally, sprinkle shichimi togarashi (a mixture of red pepper and other spices) over the dish before eating.

Tantanmen

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)

Method

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.