About a year ago, Chikatana added Chef Satoru Takeda as a partner. About a week later the restaurant had four different ramens on their menu. About four days after that I had a decision to make. Which one would I order?
I love ramen. Don Day’s Wife loves ramen. We both have our favorite ramens. That first time wasn’t really a dilemma. We ordered our favorites. The miso for her. The tonkotsu for me. Those hearty ramens had us heartily agreeing that we now had our regular ramen source in San Miguel.
It wasn’t long after that I tried Chikatana’s shoyu, Japan’s (and Chef Sato’s) favorite ramen, and, though it didn’t challenge the tonkotsu, that number one ramen on my hit parade, it became the solid number two.
But a year later, there was still one ramen on the restaurant’s menu that I hadn’t ordered. Tantamen is the Japanese take on Chinese dandan noodles. Dandan is part of China’s Sichuan cuisine and, like most Sichuan dishes it contains chili oil. And chili oil can be nasty. Very nasty.
Now I’m not a chilehead. But I’m not a chile willie either. My son Zane and I regular eat dim sum together and when we do, he casts frowns at the chile sauce on the table and requests the high test chili oil from the kitchen. And, after he bathes his har gow in it, I can’t help but gently dip mine. And, when I order Chikatana’s tonkotsu ramen, I always take it up a notch with a splash of sriracha.
But sriracha isn’t what I call rayu and chef Sato calls layu, the chili oil that is usually used in tantamen. Comparing the two is like comparing a jalapeño to a habanero. Sriracha can be comforting. Rayu can be painful.
I messaged our order to Chikatana. Miso ramen for Don Day’s Wife. Tantamen ramen for me. I thought of adding a little “please be gentle with the chili” comment but I didn’t. Don’t be a coward I thought. If you’re going to have tantamen, have tantamen.
Chikatana messaged back. Carlos was on his moto. Carlos was on his way to our door.
I took the shopping bag. I thought about how much I appreciate Chikatana’s graphics and what a nice gesture the handwritten “Thank You” was.
The main ingredients of each ramen came in two containers, one with the broth, one with the rest of the ingredients. Flipping the lid of one exposed the generous quantity of what Chef Sato calls charsiu and what I call melt-in-the-mouth pork belly.
And then I discovered some buried treasure in the bag. A little plastic container with the words “spicy sauce” and, inside, a glistening red liquid that was obviously rayu (or layu). Chikatana doesn’t put their chili oil in the broth, they put it in the bag. How brilliant of them. How fortunate for me.
I could measure my own amount of chili oil. I took a tablespoon and sprinkled an exact measure of rayu over the top. I gave it a swirl. I lifted a spoonful of the broth to my mouth.
It took a year of my life before I tried tantamen. It will take a lot less to try it again.
Chikatana is located in Mercado del Carmen, Pila Seca #19, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from 1:30 to 8:00 pm, Sunday and Monday; 1:30 to 9:00 pm, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; closed Wednesday. You can view their menu on their Facebook page. For delivery, call or message 415 100 1286.