Tantanmen Ramen features a medium-rich broth with deep umami, a touch of nuttiness and that signature Sichuan spice. It’s topped with an aromatic tofu mushroom stir fry, chili oil bamboo shoots, and crisp baby bok choy.
Tantanmen Ramen: Light up Your Senses
This ramen is an absolute flavor show from top to bottom and I’m excited to share it with you. The flavor profile borrows from both Japanese and Sichuan palettes and the topping textures range from the crisp bamboo and bok choy to the savory and meaty tofu-mushroom stir fry. To top it off, chili oil gives it a perfect spicy edge that’ll have you slurping up every last drop.
What is Tantanmen Ramen?
Tantanmen is the result of some beautiful cross-pollination between Japanese and Chinese cuisines. Japanese ramen itself is an adaptation of the Chinese lamian, which is a great dish in its own right but quite different from ramen. Tantanmen is a type of Japanese ramen that was inspired by the Sichuan dish dandanmian.
The Sichuan dish is a noodle-and-sauce dish rather than a noodle soup, and it features the signature Sichuan mala (spicy-numb) flavor profile, in addition to a ton of umami.
Both tantanmen and dandanmian originally used ground pork, but I’ve replaced it with a tofu-mushroom stir fry that carries a similar filling umami in order to make this fully plant-based.
What’s in this Tantanmen Ramen?
Savory, Spicy, Funky, Aromatic Broth
The broth for this ramen has a lovely complexity to it, owing partly to aromatics that get steeped in it and partly to the fantastic fermented pastes you’ll add to it.
Starting with a plain (boxed) veggie broth, you’ll simmer dried shiitake mushrooms, garlic, and ginger for a while to infuse the earthiness of the mushroom, as well as the delightful fragrance of the ginger and garlic.
Right before you serve, you’ll stir in some doubanjiang, miso, and Chinese sesame paste (zhimajiang):
- Doubanjiang is a fermented fava bean and chili paste from Sichuan and it has an amazing funky, earthy, spicy flavor. A little goes a long way. I recommend using a Chinese, rather than Japanese (avoid Youki!), brand for this recipe.
- This 3-year handcrafted doubanjiang from Mala Market is among the best in the world and the flavor and aroma are heavenly.
- Juan Cheng doubanjiang is more accessible and a very good sauce for everyday use. Like the 3-year, it is made in Pixian, Sichuan, the ancestral home of doubanjiang. (Amazon link here.)
- Red miso has a similar earthiness to doubanjiang but without the spice. It helps us build up a huge savory base without overpowering the broth. I recommend red miso, but any kind will work (make sure there is no bonito or other fish in it).
- Chinese sesame paste is like tahini but with a stronger nutty flavor. Dissolving it into the broth lends a creamy texture and subtle nuttiness.
Aromatic and Savory Vegan Ground Topping
The topping that I made for this recipe has a very typical Chinese flavor profile and fits beautifully in with the spicy broth and noodles.
Soft tofu, brown mushrooms, and fresh shiitake mushrooms get stir-fried with lots of ginger and garlic and seasoned with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and maple syrup. A touch of extra oil (if you like) helps give a bit of mouth-filling richness to the topping.
Fresh Baby Bok Choy
This is an easy way to add color and texture to the bowl and it makes a refreshing contrast against the salt and spice of the rest of the dish.
I use the same water that is used to boil the noodles, and blanch them for around a minute to get them a vibrant green color, so they’re at peak flavor and still have some crispness to them.
Chili Oil Bamboo Shoots
This ingredient is from neither Sichuan nor Japan. The ones I typically buy come from Taiwan and are recognizable by the bright red oil that they’re packed in. Despite the appearance, they are not really spicy. But they are seriously tasty – good enough to serve on their own as a small side dish.
I included this as a variation on menma, the (also really delicious) Japanese fermented bamboo shoots that frequently appear in ramen bowls. The chili shoots work seamlessly with the Japano-Sichuan flavors here.
Last but not at all least, you’ll add some chili oil before serving. This provides a bit of heat and, depending on the kind of oil you use, it could also add some Sichuan tingly-spicy (“mala” in Chinese) essence that will just make your tastebuds dance.
If you haven’t tried food with mala notes, it can be a bit disorienting at first, but it quickly becomes a wonderful sensation amid all the other flavors going on.
There is a chili oil that I can’t get enough of lately, from Mom’s Mala. They have mild and spicy oils, and even the mild has a flavor level that is through the roof. Their oil will make this tantanmen ramen pop like fireworks.
I am also a fan of Mr. Bing chili oil, which has tons of flavor and is loaded with crispy textural bits.
Other chili oils, whether Japanese or Chinese, will work well here.
- Laoganma is a widely available Chinese product that is quite good
- Japanese la yu is tasty but is missing the tingly element that Mom’s and Laoganma have
- You could combine a spicy chili sauce (e.g. sriracha) with a touch of Sichuan peppercorn oil (e.g. 50 Hertz) for great results
- If you’ve got the ingredients on hand, you can also make your own chili oil
A Side Note on Spiciness
While this ramen in its ideal form is quite spicy, the recipe is flexible so that you can still make a really tasty version that is mild in terms of chili spice. It really comes down to how much chili oil you add at the end.
If you don’t add any chili oil or hot sauce at the end, you’ll still have a very flavorful bowl of ramen.
Overall Cooking Workflow for Tantanmen Ramen
This recipe involves a bit of simultaneous cooking, so it’s handy if you have someone to help, but it’s totally manageable with one person. I’ll walk through how to approach it.
Start the Broth First
Get the vegetable broth simmering with the dried mushrooms, ginger, and garlic. It needs to infuse at least 30 minutes and that can go on passively as you work on the other components.
Set a Pot to Boil the Bok Choy and Noodles
You’ll set up another pot, this one with water for blanching and boiling. You can put it over medium heat, since you won’t get to it for 15-20 minutes. You want to keep this pot just under boiling, so you can easily kick up the heat when you’re ready to cook stuff in it.
Saute the Tofu and Mushrooms
This is the most active portion of the recipe. You’ll stir fry tofu cubes in oil over medium-high heat until light golden brown on several sides (5-7 minutes). From there you’ll add in the brown and shiitake mushrooms and stir fry them together with the tofu.
Ginger and garlic go in next and you’ll saute them for a couple of minutes, keeping them separate from the other ingredients so they get cooked through.
Finally, you’ll add soy sauce, shaoxing wine (or sake), and a touch of maple syrup, and cook it briefly to evaporate about half of the liquid.
Putting it All Together
At this point, your broth has been simmering for a while, your water is boiling and ready to go, and your tofu-mushroom stir fry is hot and ready to be put on some ramen.
Finish the broth by straining out the solid pieces, then stirring in the doubanjiang, miso, and sesame paste. Taste it and add more of anything you think it needs.
Blanch the bok choy very briefly. It takes me about a minute to get them perfectly bright green. Be careful not to overcook them!
Once you’ve removed the bok choy, you can cook the ramen noodles. I highly recommend using fresh (or frozen fresh) noodles for superior texture. You can use others if fresh ones are unavailable. Cook them until just cooked, possibly even slightly undercooked. With fresh noodles, this takes 1-2 minutes.
Strain the noodles from the water when they’re ready, and go ahead and assemble your noodle bowls! The hotter the better, so it’s good to have everything ready to go so you can enjoy them piping hot.
Ingredient Substitutions for Tantanmen Ramen
Since a couple of the ingredients in the recipe are uncommon, here are some possible substitutions that you could try if you’re in the mood for a little experimentation:
Substitutions for Doubanjiang
You can get a similar flavor profile from the Korean ssamjang, which is a combination of gochujang (fermented chili paste) and doenjang (fermented soybean paste).
Or if you already have gochujang on hand, you can replace half of the doubanjiang with gochujang and the other half with more red miso.
When you’re stirring the pastes into the nearly-ready broth, do it gradually, a teaspoon at a time or so, tasting the broth as you do it, so that you can get a flavor profile to your liking.
Substitutions for Chinese Sesame Paste (Zhimajiang)
Either tahini or peanut butter will work as a substitute for zhimajiang. The flavor profile won’t be identical, but it’ll be close enough.
With all three of these, make sure to stir it well in the jar before scooping it out so that you get a nice mix of solid paste and separated oil.
Substitutions for Shaoxing Wine
Ideally, you would use a non-cooking Shaoxing wine, that is, one that doesn’t have any salt in it. In some US states, you can only purchase it at a wine or liquor store, while in others, you can buy it at the supermarket.
If you can’t get saltless Shaoxing wine, Japanese sake makes a decent replacement, though the aroma won’t be quite the same.
And if you don’t want to use any alcohol in the dish, you can use veggie broth instead, though the flavor won’t have quite the complexity.
As a ramen evangelist, I’ve been sharing recipes for various styles of ramen on this blog for a few years now. I had been thinking about how to make a plant-based version of tantanmen ramen for quite some time but it never really came together until now.
Having tested the recipe several times I’m happy to tell you that it was worth the wait and that this is one of the tastiest things I’ve cooked in recent memory. I hope you enjoy it!
Tantanmen Ramen (Vegan)
Tantanmen Ramen Broth
Simmer and steep
- 1 quart vegetable broth (1 liter) Salt-free or low salt
- 4 cloves garlic Crushed
- 3 slices ginger Large coin-sized slices
- 4 dried shiitake mushrooms Small mushrooms, 2 if large
Stir in after straining
- 1 Tablespoon red miso
- 1 Tablespoon doubanjiang See blog post for substitutions
- 1 Tablespoon Chinese sesame paste See blog post for substitutions
- 3 Tablespoons peanut oil Or other neutral high-smoke-point oil
- 1/2 block soft tofu (about 8 ounces or 250 grams), cut into small cubes
- 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms stems removed, diced
- 8 ounces fresh brown mushrooms (about 250 grams) trimmed and sliced
- 4 cloves garlic minced or pressed
- 1 Tablespoon ginger minced
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Shaoxing wine or sake or vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or other sweetener
To Blanch / Boil
- 2 heads baby bok choy quartered
- 2 servings fresh ramen noodles
- chili oil bamboo shoots to taste
- 2 scallions Sliced thinly
- chili oil to taste, see blog post above
Get the broth simmering and steeping
- Combine all the "Simmer and Steep" ingredients listed above in a small pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce to low. Simmer gently for at least 30 minutes as you prepare the rest of the dish.
Boil water for the bok choy and noodles
- Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil on another burner. You can continue to prepare and cook the rest of the dish, but when this pot does reach a boil, cover and reduce to low heat to keep it just under boiling point until you're ready to use it.
Cook the tofu-mushroom topping
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (reduce to medium if the oil starts to smoke at any point). When hot, add the tofu carefully (there will be some spatter). Let the tofu sit still for 2 minutes before stirring, to develop a brown edge. Stir carefully and continue to stir-fry until about 3 sides of each piece are a medium golden brown, 5-7 minutes.
- Move the tofu to one side of the pan. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry until tender, 3-5 minutes. You can stir the tofu side occasionally as well, taking care not to break apart the cubes.
- Carefully stir the tofu and mushrooms together, then create a small space for the ginger and garlic. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry that by itself until tender, about 2 minutes. Stir everything together.
- Add the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and maple syrup. Stir well and cook for anohter minute or so to reduce the amount of liquid slightly. Remove from heat and set aside.
Strain the broth and stir in the pastes
- Use a slotted spoon or mesh strainer to remove all the solid ingredients in the broth. Stir in the doubanjiang, miso, and sesame paste, making sure to dissolve them all. Add more liquid (vegetable broth or water) if a substantial amount of volume was lost during simmering. Taste the broth and stir in more miso, 1 teaspoon at a time, if not salty enough. Maintain at low heat.
Cook the bok choy and noodles
- Bring the pot of water to a full boil and add the bok choy. Remove when the bok choy is bright green and just cooked. This takes 40-60 seconds. Set aside.
- Boil the noodles according to the package instructions. This is typically 1-2 minutes for fresh noodles or longer for dried. It's OK to undercook them slightly. Remove and serve immediately when ready.
Assemble and serve
- Divide the drained noodles among the ramen bowls. Divide the broth between them, then the tofu-mushroom topping. Garnish each bowl with baby bok choy, chili bamboo shoots, green onion, and chili oil. Serve immediately.