Cycle 5 – Item 112
27 (Sun) April 2014
Niu Rou Mian
at Yong-Kang Beef Noodle
-Da’an, Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan)-
The Taiwan Diet (Day 3)
In Taipei to grab a bite. Many bites. Along the lines of my food odyssey to Singapore last year, the plan is to try as many items as I can find, from as many venues as I can hit, improvising for the most part, no scheduled meals, just stuffing my face throughout the day and into the night, whenever I’m no longer feeling stuffed from before. 54 hours on the ground. Let’s do it.
Yong-Kang Beef Noodle is a Taiwanese restaurant. Founded 1963. Specializes in noodle dishes, particularly niu rou mian, beef noodle soup. By many accounts, it’s the ultimate destination for the dish. The customers queue up for the privilege.
If I ever get another shot at this place, I might try the zha jiang mian, as offered in the bottom right corner of the menu. Din Tai Fung also had it, which makes me wonder if it’s a common dish in Taiwan.
Previous experiences with various Chinese culinary traditions all suggest that meals are exclusively about main dishes, nothing else on the table. I’ve seen it in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Wuhan, Singapore, Philippines, London, Florence, Geneva, Paris, Frankfurt, Boston, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Oakland, LA, San Diego. The only exception, of course, is in Korea, where meals always include some kind of sour/spicy side dish – kimchi is the prime example – regardless of the cuisine, be it Korean, Chinese, Italian, French, Nepali, etc. Korean travelers are often uncomfortable when eating at restaurants abroad, because they don’t get that sour/spicy kick with every bite, especially in Chinese restaurants, as the food is considered greasy, thus necessitating the kick.
The side dish aspect of the Taiwanese culinary tradition has been the most interesting revelation of the trip. The very existence of side dishes is amazing. I also like the pre-made/on-display/pick-and-choose setup, allowing diners to see exactly what they’re getting and get it immediately. Koreans must feel right at home here.
Another thing, I’ve always maintained that Korean restaurants should adopt some kind of option system for side dishes, which are served automatically to customers, whether they want them or not, resulting in tons, literally, tons of food waste.
Niu Rou Mian is a Taiwanese dish. Flour noodles (mian) in broth derived from boiling beef (niu rou) for hours, often overnight, seasoned primarily with soy sauce and douban jiang (chili paste), topped with slices of brisket and/or tendon, often garnished with suan cai (pickled cabbage). Brought to Taiwan by immigrants from Sichuan, where the seasonings also include the infamous Sichauan peppercorn for extra kick. Widely regarded as the national dish.
It was okay. Despite appearances, the broth was neither very spicy nor beefy, surprisingly bland, similar impression to the one at Din Tai Fung the other day. On a positive note, the brisket was perhaps the tenderest and most succulent piece of beef that I can recall experiencing in recent memory. The tendon was quite nice, too, perfectly cooked so as to be delicately chewy, not rubbery or mushy. The flour noodles, whatever.
Net, I suppose that I enjoyed the food more than I didn’t enjoy the food, and that includes all the dishes that I ordered, but I’d never again want to wait in line for it.
For the final sightseeing activity: the Museum of Contemporary Art.
A few blocks away from the museum, I came upon a retail outlet for KA VA LAN, a Taiwanese single malt whisky producer.
Although I’d never heard of it until that moment, didn’t even know that Taiwan single malt existed, I bought a bottle in good faith. I would’ve bought more, but weight was an issue.
With a few hours remaining before my flight back to Manila, the Taipei Diet wasn’t finished yet.
Under the bus terminal for the airport shuttle, I encountered an extensive underground shopping center that featured a restaurant corner.
TKK is a Taiwanese restaurant chain. Founded in 1974. Currently 48 locations throughout Taiwan, 2 in China.
I’d read somewhere that Taiwan is famous for fried chicken.
I got a 1-piece + drink set; just TWD 59 (about USD 2).
A couple doors down, a dumpling joint.
Even in a bus terminal, dumpling-making appears to be within a man’s purview.
By this point, obviously, I was just stuffing my face to up the numbers.
Okay, I guess, whatever.
LAST MINUTE SNACKS
At the airport, after checking in my bags, I still had a few minutes before boarding time, so the Taipei Diet was still alive.
Taste of Taiwan Food Court offered a respectable array of made-to-order restaurants.
Hsinchu Hai Rei Meatballs Store appeared to be the most Taiwanese of the bunch.
Average rating: 2.5.
As evidenced by the rating, I was satisfied but not all that impressed by the food. I don’t anticipate coming back of my own accord anytime soon. But I’m sure that with guidance from somebody who’s familiar with the city, I could make it work next time.
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN TAIWAN)