Friday, May 29, 2015

Sapporo Ramen: Tan Tan Men

For inexpensive Japanese food in Cambridge, I often stop by the Asian food court in the Porter Exchange, located in Porter Square. You'll find seven Asian restaurants there, as well as an outpost of the Japonaise Bakery (though it is currently temporarily closed), Six of those restaurants are small, generally with less than ten tables, and during busy hours, you might have to wait a short time in line. However, the food is worth the wait, cheap and tasty.

Often, I opt for Tampopo, which has a diverse menu of options, including excellent Tempura, moist Chicken Kara-age, ample Rice Bowls, and more. Recently though, I saw a review, by Marc of Boston's Hidden Restaurants, which mentioned Tan Tan Men at Sapporo Ramen at the Porter Exchange. His photo of the dish looked appealing and intrigued me enough to check it out. I've now eaten the dish twice, and it was consistently delicious each time.    

Sapporo Ramen is a Japanese noodle house which specializes in ramen, noting that "Our broth is made from chicken and fresh vegetables boiled over high heat for more than 10 hours and served with premium wave noodles." You can order their House Ramen, Miso Ramen, Soy Sauce Ramen, Curry Ramen, Vegetarian Ramen and more, with most options costing under $10. With your ramen, you can choose a number of options, for a small additional fee, such as extra noodles, ground pork, extra veggies, extra seafood, a butter cube and more. You can order a few appetizers as well, from Gyoza to Shumai, and a few other entrees, sich as Kara-Age or Katsu.

I opted for the Tan Tan Men (pictured above), a sesame flavored soup, with wave noodles (thick egg noodles), and topped with spicy ground pork & scallions. This dish is a Japanese version of Dan Dan Noodles, aka Dandanmian, a specialty of Sichuan cuisine. Dan Dan noodles are also known as "peddler's noodles" and the term "dan dan" refers to a "carrying pole." Peddlers used to carry the pole with baskets for the noodles and sauce. They were a cheap and popular street food.

Basically, the dish consisted of a spicy sauce over noodles, and may also have vegetables and minced pork. Somehow, when the dish was adopted by the Japanese, sesame  paste was often added to the dish, helping to mute some of the spicy heat of the original Sichuan dish. If you search online for Tan Tan Men recipes, you'll find plenty of variations.

At Sapporo Ramen, the dish is basically just soup, noodles, ground pork and scallions without any other veggies or seaweed. That doesn't mean though that it is light on flavor. It is a rich and savory soup, with spicy heat, nutty accents, and plenty of umami. Each sip of the soup bursts with complex flavors. The ground pork adds a meaty element, and helps to boost the umami, while the noddles add some firm texture. The bowl is large and hearty, and you might even need to take some home with you if you don't finish it all.

It's worth visiting Sapporo Ramen just to enjoy Tan Tan Men, though I'm sure you'll also want to check out their other Ramen dishes.

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