Taiwan - Niu Rou Mian
Out of all the beef flavored soups of the world, that includes Pho, and maybe even goulash, dare I say, Taiwanese niu rou mian (beef noodle soup) is hands down one of my favorites. It’s very easy to adjust the spice levels by omitting some of the ingredients, like the dried chilis, and upping the sugar by a tablespoon or two. It’s good, so rich, maximum flavor. It really soothes the soul (and clears your sinuses).
Fun story! I went to Taiwan several years ago back in 2010 after I graduated from undergrad. There are LOTS of amazing beef noodle soup restaurants, but my friend took me to one specific place in Ximending. This area of Taipei is really famous for attracting young adults and teenagers and the amount of shops and food stalls in the area.
Well, this one specific restaurant had two levels. We got seated upstairs at a 4-person table. We were the only ones sitting at the table initially. Then, eventually two other people got seated. I was confused, but I guess the more people that are seated, the better it is for business and sales. Apparently, this is a Hong Kong style way of seating customers. I bluntly asked my friend, why are they sitting with us? Do you know them? My friend said no and explained why they were seated at our table. Oh okay. No big deal.
Funny enough, one of them had a baseball cap on and was hiding his face. After they left, my friend tells me that the one in the baseball cap is a famous Taiwanese model from Canada, Godfrey Gao. I had absolutely zero idea who that was at the time, but apparently, he’s one of the first Taiwanese males to be featured by Louis Vuitton. Had I known! This was one of the only celebrity “run-ins” I’ve ever had in my life.
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp sugar
2-3 lbs beef shank (cut into bitesized pieces)
2-inch piece of ginger (crushed)
6 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 onion (cut into wedges)
1 medium tomato (cut into wedges)
4 dried chilis
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp spicy bean sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine
3-4 pieces of star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp five spice powder
Fresh white noodles
Bok coy (blanched, for serving)
Cilantro (chopped, for garnish)
Scallions (chopped, for garnish)
Pickled mustard greens (for serving)
First, in a large pot on high heat, add your oil. When the oil is shimmering and ready, add the sugar and sear the beef in batches. Don’t let it crowd up. When all your beef is done, set aside and add more oil if needed.
Add the ginger, garlic, scallions, and onions. Stir and saute until the ingredients start to caramelize. We want the onion to get some nice color. Add the tomato and the dried chilis and stir for about a minute.
Add the meat back to the pot, along with the tomato paste, spicy bean sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, star anise, a cinnamon stick, bay leaves, Sichuan peppercorns, and the five-spice powder. Give it a really good mix before adding in enough water to cover all of the ingredients. When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and let it simmer for at least 3 hours. The lowest I’ve simmered was 2 hours, but the longer it goes, the better it is! Periodically check to make sure there is enough liquid, adding more water if necessary.
After the 3 hours, pick out the meat and set aside. Strain the broth. You can discard all the ingredients that were added to the broth (minus the meat of course). Put the meat back into the broth. If you’re ready to eat, bring a small pot to a boil, and cook your Chinese noodles according to the package instructions. Usually the noodles cook for about 7 minutes. About 2 minutes before the noodles finish cooking, add in the baby bok choy to blanch them. We want them to be tender, but not overcooked.
In a serving bowl, place your noodles and pour a few ladles of broth over them. Nicely add some beef and a few pieces of bok choy on top. I like to garnish with cilantro, scallions, and most importantly, pickled mustard greens.
Recipe adapted from The Woks of Life.