Japanese Noodles: Tantanmen vs Tanmen vs Ramen
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup originating from the noodle dish called “Nankin Soba (南京そば)” that was eaten in Chinatowns founded in the ports of Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki, Hakodate, and so on in the early Meiji period (Meiji: 1868 to 1912).
The Difference: Ramen vs Tanmen vs Tantanmen
Today, not only have ramen become the most popular comfort food in Japan but the Japanese noodle has also established its position as a popular dish in overseas countries.
Ramen is a dish of noodles that are served in a soup. The noodles are made of wheat flour mixed with an alkaline solution called “Kansui (かん水)”, which gives ramen noodles a distinctive texture different from udon noodles.
As you may know, nowadays the broth of ramen comes in various flavors, but the classics that have long been loved in Japan are “Shoyu (醤油: soy sauce)”, “Miso (味噌: fermented soybean paste)”, “Shio (塩: salt)”, and “Tonkotsu (豚骨: pork bone)”.
Besides, each region of Japan has its own specialty ramen with featured ingredients, so countless varieties of ramen can be seen in Japan.
But for that reason, some other types of noodle soups are often confused with ramen, and the quintessential example is Tanmen.
Tanmen is actually neither a bowl of ramen nor a Chinese noodle but is said to be a Japanese noodle that originated in the Kanto region around Tokyo. Nonetheless, Tanmen is often offered by both ramen and Chinese restaurants.
Tanmen is very much like ramen. The noodle soup looks very similar to a salt-based “Yasai (野菜: vegetable)” ramen, but as I wrote in this article, it is different primarily in cooking methods from Yasai ramen.
Although the broth of Tanmen is originally salt-based, some ramen shops offer miso-based Tanmen, among which Mouko Tanmen, a spicy Mapo-Tofu-topped miso-based Tanmen offered by Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto, is especially popular.
Then, what is Tantanmen?
Tantanmen (タンタンメン, 坦々麺)
Tantanmen has a similar name to Tanmen, but Tantanmen is what is completely different from Tanmen. Tantanmen is the Japanese version of Dandan noodles, a noodle dish from Chinese Sichuan cuisine.
Tantanmen was created by Chen Kenmin (1912 – 1990), a Sichuan-born Japanese chef, who altered the original Dandan noodles to suit Japanese tastes.
Unlike original Sichuan Dandan noodles, Japanese Tantanmen has a broth. The soup is light compared to the original but the addition of La-yu chili oil and Tahini sesame paste makes it flavorful.
In Japan, ramen noodles containing Kansui are often prepared for Tantanmen, and the meat miso topping for Tantanmen is usually made of minced pork that has been fried and seasoned with soy sauce, sake, doubanjiang, and Tianmian sauce.
But there is no clear definition of Tantanmen, so there are many variations available here in Japan.
Tantanmen can be enjoyed in Chinese restaurants, and in Japan, there are even shops that specialize in Tantanmen.