Fiery Hot Tantanmen at Akai Kujira in Akasaka

A bowl of tan tan men from Aka Kujira in Akasaka, Tokyo. The broth is fiery red hot with a topping of onions, a piece of bok choy, some minced meat, and a tiny red chili pepper on top. This bowl is level 5 spicy.

Akai Kujira (Akasaka) |四川担々麺 赤い鯨

Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan

〒107-0052 東京都港区赤坂 5-4-11 Porte bonheur 1F

〒107-0052 Tokyo-to, Minato, Akasaka 5-4-11 Porte bonheur 1F

Price: $$

Taste: 9/10

Tantanmen or Dan Dan Noodles are a spicy noodle dish originally from Sichuan, China. If you know anything about Chinese cuisine, you know that Sichuan food doesn’t mess around. This style of cooking is famous for their use of spicy peppercorns and most of their dishes pack some heat. Traditionally tantanmen can be served either with soup or dry without any soup. Akai Kujira offers both options on its menu and also a less spicy maze soba (think of a dish sort of like chow mein) dish.

The problem I have with most tantanmen shops in Japan is that they use a lot of peanut butter in their recipes. I think Japanese food tends to be sweeter than most other cuisines, so it’s natural that they like to add the creaminess of peanut butter to the dish. However, I feel that usually, this overpowers the dish. Sometimes in America too, the spicy oil in the dish is replaced with a strong sesame flavor. But at Akai Kujira, they’ve figured out the perfect way to merge all of these flavors into the perfect amount.

Upon sitting down at the counter, they give you a small bowl with fresh sesame seeds with a pestle and mortar to grind the seeds yourself. I’ve only really seen this at tonkatsu shops, but I love having the option to grind the seeds to add the amount of sesame I want. Originally, I accidentally ordered the maze soba, not knowing it wasn’t spicy, and once I figured that out I quickly switched my order to the tantan noodles with soup.

One part of ordering spicy food in Japan is that you’re never really sure how spicy it will be, but usually things aren’t really too hot. I paid an extra 150 yen to try the level 5 spicy and it was the perfect amount for me. It had a serious kick, but it was still really enjoyable. Normally, the bowl is ordered from level 1-3, and you pay 150 yen for up to level 5, and 250 yen if you want to go up to level 10. For me, I think level 5 was the perfect amount and I’m the type of person to always order level 7 at Coco’s Ichiban. I definitely could’ve gone higher, but I was content with the spice level. I might try the soupless version because their chart said that level 5 for that bowl really feels more like a 6.

In terms of the toppings, the bowl comes with your standard minced meat, a piece of a leafy green vegetable (it looked like bok choy), a pile of onions, and a tiny red pepper to top the dish. When I saw my dish it was bright red from the oil and it was amazing. Before eating this bowl, I thought that I just wasn’t a fan of tantanmen, but after coming here it has reaffirmed my faith in Japanese tantanmen. If you love spicy sesame noodles, then you need to stop by this shop. I like the broth a lot more than Kisurin, which is another famous tantanmen shop nearby. If you’re in Akasaka and you want to eat something spicy, you should definitely try the ramen at Akai Kujira.

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