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.
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
- 700 ml of chicken soup stock
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of black pepper
- 2 tablespoons of black vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon shokoshu
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- Cilantro (coriander)
- Black pepper
- Rayu (chili oil)
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.
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.
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.