Tingly mala chili sauce, sesame paste, and soymilk lend surprising depth of flavor to this weeknight-friendly take on a Chinese classic.
For most of my life, I was a total wimp when it came to spice. Having grown up in a stereotypically Cantonese family, the closest thing to spice on our dinner table was white pepper. I distinctly remember going off to summer camp, taking a bite of Korean instant ramyeon, and devolving into fiery tears, much to my campmates’ amusement.
Few spicy dishes are more beloved than dan dan mian (担担面), a Sichuanese street food composed of springy noodles laced with Sichuan peppercorns, ground pork, and pickled vegetables. As you can imagine, until I embarked on spice training, I avoided Sichuanese food like the plague. But when I discovered tan tan men, the Japanese adaptation of the dish, I fell in love. That first bowl was super-savory, with rich, sesame-infused broth and only a hint of spice. Yes, please.
My love for classic tan tan men hasn’t changed, but these days, I can’t get enough of mala (麻辣), the numbing spice characteristic of Sichuanese cuisine. As a result, my version of tan tan men falls somewhere in between the original and the offshoot: brothier than the classic dan dan mian, spicier than your average tan tan men, and creamier than either, thanks to a secret ingredient: soymilk. It might sound weird at first, but bear with me here. Soymilk is often used to add subtle sweetness and creaminess to hotpot dishes, bringing balance to what could otherwise become an overly salty and spicy meal. Give it a shot–if you’re anything like me, you’ll soon forget you ever doubted it!
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tbsp scallions (white part only), finely chopped
- 1 tsp ginger, minced
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
- 8oz ground pork
- 1 tbsp spicy doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
- 6 cups torigara (Japanese chicken) stock
- 2-4 tbsp Laoganma (老干妈) fried chili in oil, to taste
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 cup unsweetened soymilk
- 6 tbsp roasted white sesame paste
Toppings (mix & match as you please)
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
- 4 ramen eggs, halved
- 8oz chashu pork, thinly sliced
- Baby spinach
- Pickled vegetables
Tan Tan Men
- What’s torigara?: Torigara is a simple Japanese chicken stock devoid of the additional flavorings found in Western chicken stocks. I usually go the lazy route and use bottled torigara base, but if you have spare time and chicken bones, you can certainly make your own. And if you can’t find torigara, go ahead and use whatever chicken stock you have on hand–the spirit of the recipe will be the same.