Beef and noodles in broth – how much can it mean to Taipei?
So much that the capital of Taiwan has an annual festival of its own devoted to the dish. So much that when a rumor circulates that the government isn’t planning to host this year’s Taipei Beef Noodle (New Rou Mian) Festival, the city goes wild. (Never fear, Mayor Ko Wenje came forth to clarify the popular festival will go on.)
At beef noodle soup’s equivalent of Oscar’s night, awards are given for the city’s best traditional spicy broth and best clear broth soup.
There’s also a category for the most creative take on beef noodle soup.
It’s obvious – a bowl of beef noodles is the best way to dive into the Taipei experience and great reason to travel here. Here are eight bowls to get you started:
1. Regent Taipei
The Regent Taipei is a multiple-award winner at the Taipei Beef Noodle Festival and offers a number of acclaimed beef noodle dishes at its Azie Grand Cafe.
Best bowl: New Formosa ($14.50, plus 10% service fee) at Azie took the festival’s creative prize in 2013. It features beef slices alongside bird’s nest fern, a crunchy and slightly bitter green from Taiwan’s mountains.
2. Yong Kang Beef Noodle
Founded in 1963, this small, family-run, two-level restaurant has a reputation as one of the city’s best places for beef noodle soup. Such is Yong Kang’s status that it annually sits out the festival competition for Taipei’s best beef noodles, preferring to pass the baton to upcoming restaurants – or so it claims. Australian beef is used for the main cuts, but the DNA of the spicy red broth can be traced to Sichuan.
Best bowl: Beef noodle and tendon soup ($6.50) has chewy noodles, tender Australian beef, gelatinous tendons and flavorful broth with a hint of star anise.
3. Lin Dong Fang
Another heavyweight in the old school beef noodle stakes, this hole-in-the-wall eatery has been pleasing palates for three decades. Its beef broth contains a secret ingredient the shop claims is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Best bowl: Beef noodle and tendon soup ($6). The soup is already delicious but if you like you can add a dollop of the house beef butter to give it a spicy kick. It comes with a free top-up of broth.
4. Pin Chuan Lan
This relatively new eatery in the trendy Da’an District has stylish interior design with pale timber and a wall feature that mimics a row of traditional Chinese medicine drawers. More impressive is its variety of braised and clear stewed beef noodle soups. Pin Chuan Lan also serves a range of Taiwanese classics, such as Chinese pancakes with marinated pork and stuffed green peppers.
Best bowl: Beef noodle soup with U.S. rib-eye steak ($15.50): Feeling hungry? You won’t have room for much else after this bowl.
5. W Taipei
The W Taipei’s beef noodles have celebrity pedigree. Six hundred bowls of this rich soup were served at the wedding of beloved local star couple Chen “Blackie” Chienchou and Christine Fan at the hotel in 2011.It’s since become a popular room service dish, as well as a fixture on the menu at the hotel’s tenth floor Woo Bar, where Taipei fashionistas gather.
Best bowl: Niou rou mian ($18.50, plus 10% service fee). Loaded with thick tender slices of beef, a trio of baby bok choy and chewy noodles, the broth is rich, red and slightly spicy.
6. Mien Mien Chu Tao Tasty Noodle House
Spicy, clear and tomato broths are offered at this beef noodle specialist with two outlets in the city. Unlike many red braised broths served around town, Mien Mien’s Sze-chuan beef bone noodle soup is searingly spicy. The soup lives up to its name with a rich flavor of bone stock, chili burn and the mouth-numbing addition of Sichuan peppercorns.
Best bowl: Sze-chuan beef bone noodle soup with beef and clams ($4.50) is a surf ‘n’ turf twist on the restaurant’s spicy mainstay. For an extra $0.50, you can supersize your bowl.
Mien Mien Chu Tao Tasty Noodle House, 1/F, 1-162 Fuhua Road, Section 1, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan; +886 2 2834 9739
7. Taiwan Yi Pin Ramen and Sliced Noodle
Set on one of Taipei’s most bustling food streets, this no-frills restaurant has a record of strong showings at the Taipei Beef Noodle Festival. Yi Pin has built its reputation on a subtle soy and beef broth, which brings Japanese characteristics together with traditional Chinese sliced noodles. Each order of its thick, chewy noodles is carved off a big block of noodle dough.
Best bowl: Tomato and beef noodle soup ($5) comes with a half slice of stewed tomato and cubed tender brisket in a ramen-style beef broth with some of the chewiest noodles in town.
Taiwan Yi Pin Ramen and Sliced Noodle,10-6 Yongkang St., Da’an District, Taipei, Taiwan; +886 2 2321 1562
8. Silks Palace, New Palace Museum
If you’re hungry after admiring thousands of years of Chinese art, the 2012 festival creative category winner is available at this elegant restaurant next to the museum, also located at the Regent Taipei.
Best bowl: The “double flavored beef soup” ($14.50, plus 10% service fee) combines the two most popular beef noodle options – spicy and clear broths – in a yin-yang shaped bowl. Decidophobia-friendly.
Dave Tacon is a Walkley Award winning photographer and writer based in Shanghai.