Chef’s wife honors husband’s memory with legendary tantanmen noodle dish

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rie Hasegawa holds out a bowl of Chibakara’s tantanmen spicy noodle dish in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture.

A legendary tantanmen spicy noodle dish eaten only by those in the know has made a comeback at the popular ramen restaurant Chibakara in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture.

The noodles were rarely served to customers before the owner, Seiichi Hasegawa, died suddenly last year at the age of 52 after contracting the novel coronavirus.

His wife Rie, 53, took over the restaurant and re-created the taste of the noodles with the help of others, based on some soup left in the restaurant freezer.

Despite being priced at more than ¥1,700 per serving on the mail order site, the 800 servings sold out in six minutes, she said.

Seiichi learned to make ramen almost entirely on his own, and opened his restaurant in 2004.

At first, the restaurant was running at a loss, so he distributed flyers with his wife while studying the taste of noodles at other restaurants. Gradually, the restaurant began enjoying increased sales.

“He was a man who pushed himself without compromise,” Rie said. He always checked the taste of the soup. There was even a day when he abruptly closed the restaurant because he was not satisfied with the quality of the noodles.

Customers increasingly sought out the restaurant, and it was even ranked highly on a website introducing ramen restaurants across the nation.

Despite being located more than 2 kilometers from JR Goi Station, the restaurant was popular with customers who would line up before it opened.

The tantanmen noodle dish was a limited menu item that Seiichi invented about 10 years ago. The thick, homemade noodles are tossed in a pork- and chicken-based broth, and the dish is flavored with chili oil and a rich sesame paste. It is generous in volume, with thick slices of roast pork and ground meat mixed with miso in the center on top of the noodles.

Seiichi made it only for such occasions as ramen-related events. Just fulfilling orders for the existing menu was enough to keep the restaurant busy. He could not afford to add the tantanmen dish to the regular menu and offer it on a daily basis, Rie said.

Nevertheless, the ramen was gaining a reputation among ramen enthusiasts who had eaten it at events for its flavor and mouth-watering texture.

Seiichi contracted the novel coronavirus in August 2021. At first, he did not have a fever, but his symptoms worsened due to his diabetes and other chronic illnesses. He was rushed to the hospital and died the following month.

The revival of the tantanmen was proposed by Gourmet Innovation Co. in Tokyo, which operates a mail-order site for frozen ramen noodles.

Seiichi and an employee of the company had known each other before his death, and the firm approached Rie through the employee.

A small amount of the soup was left in the restaurant’s freezer, and the company and Rie were able to recreate the original taste through a series of trials, she said.

The company began selling the soup through a mail-order website in August.

Currently, the tantanmen dish is offered once a month at Chibakara’s main store and its branches, and is also sold online from time to time.

“I want to stick with the original taste and continue making tantanmen for the sake of our customers,” Rie said.