Soymilk Tan Tan Men

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!




Total Time

1 hr

Active Time

30 min

Tan Tan Men

(adapted from Japanese Soul Cooking)

  1. Heat sesame oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Once it’s nice and hot, add the scallion, ginger, and garlic and stir for about a minute, until aromatic.
  2. Add the ground pork and doubanjiang and continue stirring for 2-3 minutes, breaking up any clumps of pork, until the meat is cooked.
  3. Pour in the torigara stock, laoganma, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame paste. Bring to a boil, continuing to stir. Once boiling, taste and adjust the seasonings. If it’s not spicy enough, you can add more laoganma, but if it’s too spicy, don’t panic the soymilk will take the edge off somewhat!
  4. Reduce the stock to a simmer. In a separate large stockpot, cook the noodles according to the package directions.
  5. Meanwhile, place four bowls at the ready near your stove. If your bowls are cold, fill them with hot water to warm them up (just make sure to dump out the water before you pour in the broth)! 
  6. Once the noodles are al dente, strain immediately and transfer an equal amount to each bowl, followed by the broth. Place toppings around the sides of the bowl, then garnish with the sesame and scallions and serve.

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