Chris Gantan, the Bay Area’s Vegan Ramen Home Chef

 · November 15, 2021

By Robbie Brown

Chris Gantan is a Bay Area based home chef known for pushing the boundaries and definitions of what it means to make plant-based ramen. Recipes such as vegan chicken paitan, tofu chashu, and habanero oat milk ramen with rye noodles are only just a few of Chris’s many remarkable creations. As a fellow foodie, I couldn’t wait to dive into a conversation with Chris to learn more about his philosophy and methods for plant-based ramen. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length.

RB: I am curious: can you describe your journey with plant-based eating, as well as how you became interested in making ramen?

Chris Gantan:  It started with my partner that I met eight years ago. They were vegan and taught me about this lifestyle. From there I began to learn more about the environmental, health, and ethical standpoints for being vegan, which convinced me to change the way in which I eat.

For [my interest in] ramen…. Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma, which is an anime about food. There was one episode where one of the best chefs in the world made a tonkotsu ramen where the broth was made from soy milk, the chashu was tempeh, and there was miso in there. This episode inspired me to follow the recipe from the anime. My interest took off from there, and I started to read all about ramen and began making my own recipes. I wanted to learn how to get better at making it. Ramen is treated like an art. When you finish a bowl after a week of work, it is a pure expression of cooking. You put your soul into that bowl. It wasn’t a one and done. You bring out everything that you could possibly think of in your kitchen, and you put it as a pure expression of cooking, in a bowl.

Vegan Tonkotsu


Ramen is treated like an art. When you finish a bowl after a week of work, it is a pure expression of cooking. You put your soul into that bowl.
— Chris Gantan, vegan ramen chef


RB: You seem to love unconventional recipes and cooking techniques. How did this affect the way you prepare plant-based ramen? 

Chris Gantan: I don’t like vegan food being limited or seen as bland flavor, I want it to be seen as a cuisine in and of itself. I want it to get to a point where people, vegan or not, want to go out for vegan food. Unconventional cooking plays a role in how I make vegan ramen. I want to challenge people to see it not as limiting, or an extra on a menu, but as an option that would be satisfying. Right now, vegan ramen from a regular Japanese restaurant is not going to be as good as conventional ramen, the ideas aren’t out yet. You will normally always find a miso or sesame broth with plain vegetables and tofu. 

I am interested in something unconventional because I want something new, and for meat eaters to see my recipes and realize that we don’t need to fetishize meat and assume it is always an ideal flavor in our food… maybe there is something to plant-based protein and vegetables. Maybe there is something palatable about this idea, that this food is not contributing to gross ethical violations and environmental pollution. Ethics are a seasoning. After eating a bowl of vegan ramen, I not only feel good about myself, but my body also feels good. It is a pure expression of umami flavor, without messing with your body, animals, and the environment. 

Habanero Oat Milk Ramen with Rye Noodles

RB: Can you explain the components of ramen and what kind of ingredients you use to achieve certain flavors without using animal-based products?

Chris Gantan: There are five essential components to ramen which are: Stock, tare (sauce – where the salt in the dish comes from), aroma oil, noodles, and toppings. Stock and tare are the two main liquids in your ramen, while the aroma oil is in globules throughout the broth. The aroma oil really matters because it adds a scent to the ramen and harmonizes the broth and tare. Ramen is known to get all the umami from the stock and tare. For non-vegan ramen stock, you would get that from animal bones, fish, chicken, etc. For a plant-based ramen stock, your sources of umami come from certain vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms and kombu. The way I do it is not through the stock; I get the umami in my recipes from the tare, with the use of mirin, soy sauce, vinegar, miso, etc. Nutritional yeast also works well. 

The noodles in ramen are traditionally vegan. For the aroma oil, you may use shallot oil, chile oil,  or mayu (black garlic oil). To make these, such as the shallot oil, I fry shallots in a neutral oil with a high smoke point, like canola, avocado, or grapeseed oil. I’ve even used refined coconut oil in the past. For the toppings, you can use vegetables like seaweed, tofu, green onion, etc. 

RB: How accessible are these ingredients at a typical market? Are they specialized??

Chris Gantan: Ramen is such a young food, when it comes down to it, you are making a soup with Japanese methods. I have made ramen without kombu or shiitake mushrooms before, and while they may not be available nationwide, vegetables are. With my recipes, you can essentially follow and make the same thing but substitute certain ingredients. You can make a stock with different vegetables, it is the methods that matter. For the oils, if you have vegetable oil and garlic or shallots, you can make an aroma oil. The tare can even be out of water and salt, or soy sauce. You can even cook pasta noodles in baking soda to make ramen “like” noodles. Use ingredients that are local to you. It is those ingredients that probably make up the taste and palate of the region you are in. If you don’t have kombu in your area, people won’t be used to it. So you don’t have to use it. Just follow the methods and structure of ramen. 

Vegan Pork Belly

RB: Out of every recipe that you have created, which one is your favorite? What recipes should we be looking forward to? 

Chris Gantan: Favorite thing that I have made is a vegan pork belly. It took me a year and a half to make that. I was inspired by Chef Reina Montenegro. I went to her older restaurant Nick’s Kitchen, and I kept going back and one day I tried her version of vegan pork belly. It was a meaty protein layer, and some kind of fat. One day she hosted a cooking class and my partner and I decided to go. Reina taught us how to make traditional Filipino recipes and then I asked her about her pork belly, and she told me she used konjac root….shout out to Reina, and her new restaurant Chef Reina! It took me a year to get the konjac to stick to the tofu. I ended up using an agar agar paste. I dip my tofu chashu into the paste and add it to a konjac slab. The agar agar paste doesn’t add any flavor,and the end result looks visually like a slab of pork belly. 

I am working on a potato kamaboko recipe, which is a plant-based version of the Japanese fish cake traditionally found in ramen. I also want to work on a new version of my tonkatsu ramen with refined coconut oil as a stand-in for pork fat, and a vegan Jiro-style ramen (a regular bowl of soup and noodles with an enormous amount of toppings on top, such as a lot of spinach, cabbage, and chashu).

Tomato Shio Ramen

RB: What is the best way to find your recipes, support you, and follow your work? 

Chris Gantan: I’m keeping it simple, I am almost 100% on Instagram. My recipes are available at @vegan.tanmen. I’d also recommend listening to my interview from the Way of Ramen podcast.


Robbie Brown is Acterra’s Healthy Plate, Healthy Planet Program Manager responsible for programming on food sustainability and ensuring access to healthy food. When he isn’t working on sustainable food-related initiatives, or playing in his band, he is often busy in the kitchen, developing and trying new recipes.

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