By Sherilyn Siy
Leave it to the Japanese to adopt a foreign dish and make it their own.
In China, I have had Szechuan style dandanmen (担担面). Noodles were topped with preserved mustard stems, minced pork, chili oil, scallions and Szechuan peppers. The dish is usually dry and the noodles and the toppings are tossed together. In Japan, tantanmen (担々麺) is pretty common -- many ramen shops offer it as one of their menu items and some shops specialize in tantanmen. But Japanese tantanmen is distinct from its Szechuan origin. Japanese tantanmen comes in a rich thick soup, a blend of flavorful stock, soy milk, sesame paste, pickled mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, and shallots. It is traditionally topped with ground meat cooked in a tasty miso paste. Bright green vegetables add a nice contrast. The dish is usually drizzled with bright red rayu, a fragrant oil infused with chili.
Now tantanmen is usually served using yellow ramen noodles. So I was surprised and delighted to see my favorite udon shop offer tantan udon for a limited period only. Kamaage Marugame-Seimen Udon's tantan udon starts at ¥650 for the smallest bowl and you can have it hot or cold, which is great because spring weather can be fickle. You don't want to have piping hot tantan udon on an unusually hot day. Expect the usual that comes with Japanese style tantanmen, except enjoy it with Marugame-Seimen's chewy flat edged sanuki udon. Aside from the ground meat cooked in miso, Marugame-Seimen tops each bowl with sweet pickled chopped onions and a dash of smoky katsuo (bonito) powder. When my order arrived, it looked every bit as beautiful as the promotional photos.
As this is a seasonal menu item, enjoy it while it lasts, or you'll have to wait another year for it to be offered again.
The branch I frequent is in Hidaka, Saitama which is best accessed by car (outlet style parking lot is available in the Beisia complex). Kamaage Marugame-Seimen Udon has some 800 branches all over Japan and 65 in Tokyo alone. Like any chain, the quality is consistent whichever branch you choose to visit.
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For Sherilyn Siy, Asia is home. Born in Hong Kong, Sherilyn spent time in the Philippines, China, and now lives in Japan. She speaks English, Filipino, Chinese (or putonghua), and Hokkien, her family's local dialect. Running is one of her favorite ways to explore Japan. She proudly finished the 2015 Tokyo Marathon -- her first ever full marathon -- in 4 hours and 37 minutes. She was absolutely psyched when she got selected again to run the new Tokyo Marathon route in 2018. She hopes to complete other races in Japan.