Friday, June 24, 2016

Hiyashi Tan-Tan ((冷やしたんたん)

One of the wondrous things about ramen is that it gives Japanese chefs full freedom to explore creativity outside the traditional norms of washoku. It allows them to escape the "wa" (和) of the washoku (和食) — the "Japanese-ness" of meal formats, rules, etc.

Every culture has some escape pod by which they can break the rules and are no longer subject to the dictates of "traditional culture". You need a release mechanism for creativity and rebellion.

Ramen is unambiguously Chinese and hence "foreign" however the Japanese have adapted it, refined it, and taken it to great heights. In the spirit of experimentation, it's not unusual to find "Thai Ramen" and "Indian Ramen" and "Italian Seafood Ramen", etc. in Tokyo. Any number of tricks from other cuisines are amenable as long as they ultimately get integrated into the ramen format.

The CC first ate the dish at a restaurant near his former workplace. It's a riff on a riff on a riff.

The owner of the restaurant is Burmese who ran away to Japan, lived there for a decade, and in spite of marrying Japanese, was unable to get a permanent visa. The couple opted for "life, liberty and happiness" and Japan's loss is New York's gain.

Tan-tan men is a variation on the classic Sichuanese dan-dan mian (担担面) — the spicy-tingly noodles with ground pork, pickled vegetables, and chili oil.

The Japanese version sticks to the idea broadly. It somehow got caught up with the very Sichuanese doubanjiang (辣豆瓣酱) possibly because its umami is very similar to miso.

So the ground pork is stir-fried with ginger, garlic, scallions and toban jan (as it's called in Japanese) until you have a loose dry mixture.

The ramen noodles are topped with an intense pork broth, the spicy ground pork mixture, slivered scallions, etc. This is a broad idea. The specifics depend on the creativity of each chef. You'd probably find slivered cucumbers or bean sprouts. It may be topped with rayu (chili oil.) It all depends.

Ramen, being served piping hot is cold weather food. Japan has blistering summers and a history of a lack of air-conditioning. The very hot weather dish, hiyashi chūka, featured here often is a response to that.

Hiyashi tan-tan is the bastard love child of hiyashi chūka and tan-tan men as conceived by a Burmese entrepreneur trained in Japan to satiate the ramen-crazy Yankees in a blistering New York summer.

What could be cooler than that?

There are some elegant subtle melodies inside it that make it sing.

Traditional ramen is frequently made with stock made from pork bones. It has a milky-white color.

The stock here is much lighter as befits a summer dish. Seafood-based or chicken-based which has been hit with a solid amount of sesame paste. Traditional Japanese sesame powder (gomashio) is made with roasted sesame seeds and has a brownish color. This one is clearly made with unroasted ones which gives the broth the same intense milky-white color. The CC strongly suspects that the restauranteur is just using tahini thus introducing a Middle-Eastern ingredient. It's New York, after all. Why not?

The advantage of cold-ingredients pre-prepared to a restaurant should be obvious but one of the complete non-negotiables is that the ramen has to be made fresh. You can dunk it in ice-water to cool it down but it must be freshly made.

Since the recipe clearly has diverged so far from its roots, such as they are, the CC feels absolutely no shame in diverging further. It would almost be regretful to stick to the format. The pork has been subbed by ground seafood (non-traditional) and bamboo shoots (absolutely traditional.) The cucumbers and scallions are retained in the summer heat.

It's the beauty of ramen. Within the broad tradition, as Cole Porter might have put it, "Anything goes".


(serves 2)


2 pieces kombu
4 cups water
1/2 cup dried shrimp (or bonito flakes or both)

1/3 cup sesame seeds

Ground Pork

1/2" ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp toban jan
1 tbsp soy sauce
sugar (to balance)
peanut oil

1/2 cup ground pork (or ground seafood or ground chicken)
1/2 cup bamboo shoots

2 packages ramen


sesame oil


Note 1: Once the sesame paste is stirred into the cool broth, you cannot reheat it again. The broth and paste will separate which will destroy the texture. It must have its ice-cold white texture.

Note 2: Mound the pile of the ground pork mixture in the center. The toppings should be to the side. Yes, this is "only" aesthetics but it really goes a long way to emphasizing the cold-hot nature of the dish. The spicy pork with the ice-cold ingredients. It will all turn red-gold once you start slurping.

Note 3: If you have time, soak the sesame seeds in water. Don't worry too much about this step. You can always loosen the sesame paste with the dashi you make.

Note 4: The whole recipe is eminently scalable and can be made ahead of time. Except the ramen. They must be made fresh. You'll probably learn the hard way the science behind this step.

Note 5: It takes a while to chill all the ingredients especially the broth. Maybe the CC's fridge is crappy but it took more than 6 hours to get it down to the right temperature.

First, make the dashi. Heat up the kombu with the water. Just before the water boils, fish the kombu out and discard. If you don't do it, the broth will turn bitter. Add the dried shrimp/dried anchovies/bonito flakes and bring to a loose boil. Let it steep for at least 15 minutes. Pass the broth through a double layer of paper towels. You should be left with a clear golden broth.

Meanwhile, take the soaked sesame seeds and grind them to a fine paste in a mortar and pestle. Add some of the above dashi if you need to loosen the paste. Add the paste to the dashi and add salt. Set aside and let it chill.

Cut up the cucumber, carrots, scallions into long very thin batons of the same size and set aside to chill.

Make the ground pork mixture. Smash up the ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle to a paste. Heat up some peanut oil in a skillet. When shimmering, add the ginger-garlic paste. Fry for a bit. Add the toban jan and fry for a little bit. Add the ground pork, soy sauce and sugar and let it cook until it is dry. You will probably need to add 2-3 tbsp of water to make sure it doesn't burn. Add the bamboo shoots towards the end. Take off the heat and cool. You can store this for a few days. Chill it.

When ready to serve, make the ramen. The ones the CC has require 2.5 minutes. Immediately dunk in an ice bath.

Top the ramen with the chilled dashi. Put the ground pork mixture in the center. The cut up scallions, carrots and cucumbers to the side.

(You can add sesame oil but that's gilding the lily.)

Slurp the intense icy awesomeness.

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