Beef noodles has to be the Taiwan equivalent of Italy’s pasta, or even southern China’s fried rice. Virtually a national culinary symbol, it is a popular dish available on the menu of every second restaurant in Taipei. Luckily there are several different styles and flavors to enjoy.
By Stuart Hill
It’s the preparation and ingredients that really make a great bowl of beef noodles. As a result, there can be a lot of variety between different restaurants and different chefs.
Generally speaking though, as the categories in the Taipei International Beef Noodle Festival competition indicate, there are two basic recipes: braised beef “hong shao” (紅燒) and clear broth “qing dun” (清燉) flavors. The braised beef version tends to be spicier and heavier in flavor, while the clear version is possibly the easiest introduction for western palates, as it resembles a lighter beef broth.
As explained in this Travel in Taiwan article written to highlight the Sheraton Hotel’s own gourmet version of beef noodles, the lighter broth variety originated from northern Chinese muslims, who prepared the soup using halal beef preparation techniques. Meanwhile, the braised beef version — also known as the “四川” (SiQuan) flavor — was reportedly the innovation of mainland immigrants living in KaoHsiung.
Both styles form the basis of the Taipei beef noodle competition.
Despite its common appearance at cheap-eat places like night markets and small restaurants, the quality and flavor of beef noodles depend both on the quality of the ingredients and the time spent in preparation. The beef itself is supposed to be stewed separately to the soup, but the cut of meat and the length of time taken to cook will have a big impact on the final product. This will make the difference between a tough rubbery texture, and a melt-in-the-mouth softness.
In addition to beef meat, tendon or muscle 筋 (jin) is also a common ingredient. While westerners might cringe a bit at the sight and sensation of this at first, in fact, cooked until it is soft and chewy, the tendon can add to the texture of the meal. Tendons are reported to contain lots of collagen and to be good for maintaining the suppleness of your skin.
The final key ingredient is the type of noodles you include. Many places will use a basic spaghetti style noodle. However an even nicer variety is a flatter fettucine style. Even better is the hand-sliced “dao xiao” (刀削) variety, which provides a deliberately inconsistent thickness of shaved noodles.
While a warm bowl of spicy beef noodles can be the perfect touch for a cold Taipei winter, so-called dry noodles “gan mian” (乾麵) versions, which leave the broth out, can be a welcome change for Taiwan’s humid summer months. You’ll find dry noodles also come with a choice of noodle types.
Key Terms for Ordering Beef Noodles:
- 牛肉麵 – niu(2) rou(4) mian(4) – beef with noodles (in soup)
- 牛肉湯麵 – niu(2) rou(4) tang(1) mian(4) – beef broth (no meat) with noodles
- 牛肉乾麵 – niu(2) rou(4) gan(1) mian(4) – beef with noodles (but without soup)
- 番茄牛肉麵 – fan(1) qie(2) niu(2) rou(4) mian(4) – tomato and beef with noodles (in soup)
- 半筋半肉麵 – ban(4) jin(1) ban(4) rou(4) mian(4) – half-and-half tendon and beef with noodles (in soup)
- Taipei City Government’s International Beef Noodles Festival
- If you are brave enough to try making your own beef noodle soup, try this beef noodles recipe from the winner of the 2011 Taipei International Beef Noodles Festival. Or this from website Epicurious
- About Taiwanese Beef Noodles on wikipedia