Eating China blog…

27 Sep

Lots of recipes… kumquat tea, Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (my fave!!!)…. etc…. I just hope they have more posts and are more regular!

AND…. they have a project where they travel and eat!

Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup
One of the signature dishes of Taiwan is beef noodle soup. It’s not native – it washed in with the flood of KMT-led Mainland Chinese in the late 1940s. So popular has it become, that if you had just arrived and were walking around Taipei, and if, within 20 minutes you had not passed a niu rou mian shop, I’d hazard a guess you were in the wrong place. By wrong place I mean wrong country. Beef noodle soup is that popular in Taiwan. Not native, but completely naturalized.

The dish has even established a reputation beyond these shores – the last time I passed through Hong Kong, there at the airport was a restaurant specialising in ‘Taiwan beef noodle.’

Living in Taiwan, I’ve eaten a lot of it. It is one of my old reliables; what I go for when I really don’t know what I feel like eating. But I have always been curious about beef noodle soup in China. Was the Taiwan dish anything like the original; how was it different? I finally had a chance to find out last year when I went to Beijing and Datong. There I ate the basic version of the dish three or four times.

Without doubt they have some good wheat noodles in the north, in particular dao shao mian: strips shaved from a big slab of fresh, firm dough, shot with a large blade, straight into a pot of boiling water. But everything else about the dish left me unimpressed. I found the clear liquid almost insipid, and the thin slices of beef dry, tough, and bland. The meat reminded me of roast beef that had been left in the fridge for a week, uncovered. I came away convinced that the Taiwan interpretation, with its robust soup, and succulent, sinewy braised beef was much better than its antecedent.

Taiwan beef noodle soup may be better, but to be fair, I later realized, I was more used to a certain kind of beef noodles that some say is Sichuan-style. Hong shao (beef braised in soy sauce and other ingredients) is the style of beef noodle soup that has come to dominate in Taiwan. Sometimes a little bok choy is added to the bowl, or a couple of chunks of carrot and radish. One version includes tomato, another is spicy, yet another is ma la, hot and numbing.

After plumbing the ‘depths’ of my memory (which didn’t take long) and checking around a bit, it dawned on me that there is another, major style of the soup in Taiwan, one that used to be much more common than it is today. That soup is light and clear – very similar to the soup in China, albeit with much better beef. It seems that the Taiwanese started out with more-or-less the same soup as in north China but over time gravitated towards the stronger tasting, hong shao version.

I have been meaning to learn how to make beef noodle soup for ages. Now I knew I had to start with the clear soup: the Taiwanese rendering of the northern-style beef noodle soup, originally developed by the Hui Muslims. Later maybe I will tackle the hong shao. I found a recipe in a Chinese cookbook, showed it to a friend who confirmed it looked ‘chabuduo’, about right, which I took to mean ‘authentic,’ and that is what I have been cooking lately.

It is normal to have a side dish or two with hong shao beef noodle soup. I did the same with the clear soup but realized straightaway that my choice of side dish – bamboo shoots in chilli oil – had been a bad one. No sooner had the bamboo touched my lips and the soup flavour simply vanished – there was no way it could compete with all that fiery capsaicin.

The soup is based on a beef stock flavoured with carrot, radish and onion. If your tastes run to strong and spicy like mine, it might take a couple of sittings to appreciate it. Stick with it, and you should come to enjoy the natural cleanliness and relatively pure flavours.

At my house no one has complained about the soup, only about the frequency I have been serving it. “Oh God, not beef noodle soup again!”

I will continue to tinker with the dish, but in the meantime, here is the recipe.

Clear Beef Noodle Soup

Serves 4

Stock Ingredients
4 litres water
1 large beef bone
1/2 large onion
1/2 large carrot
1/2 large daikon radish
1 stalk of spring onion
1 large slice ginger
1 star anise
2 tablespoons rice wine
1/2 teaspoon salt


  1. Boil water in large pot.
  2. Wash bone.
  3. Peel and wash carrot and radish and cut into halves.
  4. Peel onion
  5. Add all ingredients to pot.
  6. Cover and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.
  7. Filter stock. Put stock solids aside.

Soup Ingredients
400 g white, round noodles (dry)
400 g beef heel muscle*
2 litres stock
4 pc ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stalk of spring onion, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil


  1. Wash, then blanche beef.
  2. Throw out water and clean pot.
  3. Stock, beef, ginger and salt in pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Remove beef from soup and allow to cool.
  5. Bring a large of pot water to boil, add noodles, bring to boil again and simmer for 4–8 minutes or according to package instructions.
  6. Cut beef in 1/2 cm thick slices across muscle.
  7. Drain noodles and place equal portions in 4 large bowls.
  8. Place beef on noodles.
  9. Add soup
  10. Garnish each bowl with a drop of sesame oil and a sprinkle of spring onion.

*Beef heel muscle appears to be a Chinese cut or meat. When cooked it balls up to resemble some sort of internal organ. Other beef cuts with a bit of fat and plenty of connective tissue (the sight of tendons is an auspicious sign when it comes to this dish), like rib meat, shank or chuck are fine too. Cut into small chunks and cook for 2 hours. Most Chinese plain noodles are suitable, but thin, round noodles are most common for this dish in Taiwan. The vegetables from the stock can be eaten separately.


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