Thursday, June 14, 2012

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup - Take One

Despite eating bowls of Taiwanese beef noodle soup (TBNS) in Taiwan, the best bowl of TBNS I’ve had was from Mr. Sun’s in Toronto (it has since been closed). I fell in love with the complexity and depth the soup had. My mouth is watering as I think back to that meal.

It is my goal to replicate the dish and get approvals by Taiwanese natives (Jimmy and JL). A larger goal of mine is to host a Taiwanese-themed dinner with a menu of: pot sticker dumplings, TBNS, winter melon tea, and sliced watermelons for dessert. Or instead of winter melon tea and watermelons, maybe watermelon milk and shaved ice are better options.

I did some research and looked at a bunch of food blogs to find out what kind of ingredients went into making such an amazing soup – Use Real Butter and Noodle Fever to be more specific. We didn’t have all the ingredients but I tried to make it anyway. And, as usual, the recipe wasn’t followed to the tee.

Beef shanks (bone in) were on sale at the Green Supermarket for $1.88 a pound, but when we got there, they had raised the price to $2.19. If only we had the Chinese newspaper to dispute the price. When I thought about it more, the beef shanks were still much cheaper than other places *cough* T&T*cough*, where the regular prices were more than double that.

Fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, black peppercorns, bay leaves, star anise, and a cinnamon stick was sealed in a spice ball to flavour the stock. The spice ball was tossed into a large pot of beef shanks and pork bones to simmer. Yes, I’m aware that pork bones are not used in TBNS.

Using a smaller pot, green onions, garlic cloves, sugar, soy sauce, and fermented tofu were simmered with the cooked beef shanks. I tasted both of the contents as they simmered away. I couldn’t stop pacing and tasting it. Neither the stock nor the seasoning liquid tasted nor smelled right.

My heart began to race and I started to get anxious. I really wanted this to work out but I knew the soup was ruined already. The flavours of the soup weren’t balanced and the soup wasn’t savoury enough (not enough unami). There was no way of turning it into Taiwanese beef noodle soup. I let myself down.

In hindsight, I should have followed the two recipes closer. Many important things were omitted; tomato paste, beef bones, soy paste and chili black bean sauce for instance.

Although I had failed to replicate a decent version Taiwanese beef noodle soup, the stuff I had made was still edible. I combined the seasoning liquid and the beef shanks into the stock.


We’ve made pasta and dumpling skins before. Homemade noodles wouldn’t be difficult. I believe the noodles were made with hot water, flour and a bit of salt. It was mixed together and then set aside to rest. Before we were ready to cut the noodles, the dough was kneaded for about ten minutes to work the gluten. The combination of hot water and kneading the dough made the noodles chewy or QQ, as the Taiwanese say. Udon anyone?



The noodles were wide, flat, and deliciously chewy every time I had TBNS. I've heard of restaurants using thinner noodles, but as far as I'm concerned, wide noodles were the way to go. We had to compromise and make thinner noodles since there were some minor disagreements.





Another component of TBNS is the pickled mustard condiment. One particular beef noodle place I went to in Taipei had minced garlic in the pickled mustard greens. I thought it was a great addition. Mr. Sun’s had seasoned their pickled mustard greens with a hint of sesame oil and so I combined the two ideas together. This was very easy to put together.

I went through a checklist in my head:
Soup? Check. Simmering away, waiting to be served.

Pickled mustard green condiment? Done. Seasoned and ready to go.

Noodles? Check. Standing by to be cooked in salted boiling water.

Bok choi? Standing by to be blanched. Check.

Beef? Tender and ready to serve. Check.

Boiling water? Woops, forgot to put a pot of boiling water.


People started to get hungry. It was time to serve up the Taiwanese beef noodle soup-inspired beef noodle soup.



Those were some of the varying bowls of noodle soup. The bottom one is Dad’s loaded noodle soup. It’s a Cambodian thing.

My bowl of beef noodle soup was so-so. I was still disappointed that it didn’t taste like TBNS. But what was I expecting when I didn't use all the ingredients? The pickled mustard greens condiment was a huge hit though. I thought that it alone made my bowl of beef noodle soup taste a sliver more like TBNS.

The noodles weren’t as great as we’ve made in the past. They weren’t as chewy and every other noodle that I had tasted very floury, though they were fully cooked. It didn’t make sense until Mom remembered that she used some old flour that Grandpa brought over to make a second batch of noodles. Lovely… 

The winter melon (aka white gourd) tea was refreshing. I believe this can was from T&T.

Since making this back in March, I’ve slowly began stocking up the proper ingredients. Once I have everything (or close to everything), I’ll try to follow the recipe more closely and see if it actually tastes like the real thing. Please follow me on my road to hosting a Taiwanese-themed dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Try roasting the bones before boiling. You may want to divide up your meaty bones from your mostly bones and sear the ones with meat and roast the dickens out of the mostly bones. This will add depth to your broth.


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