Similar to the United States where Chinese food (and most other cuisines) are bastardized, Japan has its share of faux Chinese food that retain little resemblance of the original dish. This faux Chinese is rather deep rooted in Japanese culture, resulting in the ubiquitous “Chinese” joints serving ramen (which has a very dubious ancestry) and fried rice, which of course resulted in the enormous popularity of ramen in Japan. The writer Ken Kaikô was already lamenting in the 1970s about the lack of authentic Chinese food in Japan despite the ease of finding faux Chinese, which may give you an idea of how long this situation has been maintained.
However, the bastardization of Chinese food was not in any way an ill-willed attempt to capitalize on exoticism or fat and sugar laden lumps of fried meat. The creator of the Japanese dan dan mien, Chin Kenmin, strived to create a dish that rivaled the original dish in its deliciousness, but by utilizing ingredients that were readily available in Japan. The result is a warm, comforting bowl of noodles that have little resemblance to the original dish.
The great thing about this dish is that it comes together rather quickly if you made za-jian (sauteed ground pork with ten men jian (sweet dark miso), cooking wine of sorts, and sugar). The ease of preparation (and also the heat from the chili oil) makes this dish perfect for hangover food.
So the ingredients are:
ten men jian
sake, or Chinese cooking liquor.
Sesame paste (be generous, and put about a tablespoon or so for every bowl)
a bit of vinegar
chicken broth (preferably one that doesn’t use Western ingredients. Andrea Nguyen recommends Swanson, and I have much more faith in her than I do in myself).
za-cai (chinese preserved thing, which is shaped in the weirdest way possible)
Greens (I often use yu-chao, but anything works. Here, I used asparagus, but sometimes even blanched romaine lettuce works well).
For the noodles, use whatever on hand. I believe the Japanese “Chinese” noodles (such as those used in ramen) makes it “authentic” in a Japanese-Chinese way. Using san-don noodles (which are wonderfully cheap) reminds you of Sichuan dan-dan noodles.
For the za-jian, just sautee the pork until it changes color, throw in the soy sauce, wine, and sugar, and once that dissolves, add the ten men jian. Be careful not to burn the ten men jian, its much easier than you expect.
For the soup, just throw in the ingredients except the chicken broth into the bowl. Slowly add in boiling hot broth, and give it a quick mix til it comes together. Its usually not recommended to overmix it, since the mixing process supposedly messes with the aroma of the sesame paste. However, at desperate times, I have mixed it with a immersion blender, and by no means was the end product uneatable. So just mix it as much as you want.
Top with za jian, za cai, more chili oil, and greens. Eat.
Za-jian is wonderful to have on hand. It makes mapo tofu a breeze to make, you can sautee it with minced bamboo shoots and dried shitake for a quick Zha Jiang Mian, or just top it on rice. Wonderful stuff.