Filled to the brim with both savoury and spice, Tantanmen has been a popular dish in Japan for decades. Here, the dish is most commonly served up in a spicy broth as a noodle soup, however, the dish itself actually has its roots in China’s Sichuan province, where it was originally – and still often is – enjoyed without soup.
The closest you can get to the original soupless dish in Japan is known as Shirunashi Tantanmen, and has been growing in popularity since 2010. This soupless version can be ordered at almost any restaurant in Japan serving Tantanmen, which begs the question...what happens to all the soup that would otherwise be served with it? Any real thought given to the question will of course end up with the conclusion that at least some proportion of soup must be thrown away in the kitchen and wasted.

Diving into this subject, Kazuki Takano and his team at Motea Masu conducted a survey at a number of Tantan noodle shops. Although the findings varied, and it could not be confirmed that Tantanmen stores are wasting soup when serving up soupless noodles (some stores were, of course, a little taken aback by the accusation but they went along with the fun), the project sparked an idea for a new business venture; noodle-less Tantanmen.

‘SOUP ONLY’ is the world’s first noodle-less Tantanmen store which focuses on promoting SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) by stopping possible food wastage. The flagship store opened up in Ebisu on 8 July and is overseen by head chef Satoru Ohori, who ensures the quality and taste of the soup matches the authentic flavours of traditional Japanese Tantanmen (sans the noodles of course).

By being completely noodle-free, but otherwise similar in taste and texture, one might be left feeling like something is missing, or that the soup is too strong to eat by itself. Whilst this may seem counterintuitive for a restaurant, it is actually one of the concepts behind ONLY SOUP, as they try to teach people about food waste problems and promote sustainability by touching on our discomforts.

Imagine eating curry rice without any rice, it’s doable and could even fill you up, but you will know that something is missing because we have created a dish where it is expected to be eaten with a certain side. By providing noodle-less Tantanmen, ONLY SOUP challenges those expectations and our current world view.

SOUP ONLY Tantanmen can be found 5 minutes walk away from Ebisu Station at 2-8-8 Ebisu Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0021 WEST EBISU Building.
The restaurant is geared towards people who can enjoy a little bit of lightweight humour, which is reflected in their opening hours; Sunny days and Thursdays from 18:00 ~ 20:00. With the rainy season almost over, we’ll take a guess that these hours mean ONLY SOUP will be open on a daily basis pretty soon.

Do you think you could enjoy a bowl of Tantanmen without the noodles?

By - Connie Sceaphierde.