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Today, Miss. Delicious is on a journey to find the taste of happiness. There's a saying in Chinese that delicious food brings joy and happiness. No doubt, Taiwan offers some of the most palatable food in all of Asia, and does so, so effortlessly devoid of gift wrapping, or assertive marketing. This is a place to taste food because it is in the rawest sense of the word, simply delicious.
Taiwan is home to a very ethnically diverse population having been occupied and visited by not only the mainland Chinese, but also the Japanese, Dutch, Spaniards, and even many Southeast Asians.
Because of Taiwan's early rise to development, it is known as one of the four Asian dragons which also include Singapore, Hong Kong and South-Korea. With this early affluent economy, Taiwan was able to assimilate delicacies from all over the world, blending them with it's own ethnically diverse traditions. The result - a nation labelled as the food heaven of the east.
Today, we'll be eating around the lively neighbourhood that is Ximending. This is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Taipei, but remains one of the most lively. You are never too far away from alluring food waiting to be eaten, whether it's the snack foods, night market stalls, or full blown restaurants, the options are everywhere and you just don't have enough time (or stomach space) to try them all!
Just below where I lived, there is a beef joint, called Beef Shop. It's considered a five star beef noodle joint and has won awards of being a top 10 Beef Noodle Soup joint in Taipei at the 2010 Taipei International Beef Festival.
The restaurant is so popular that after passing and forth for several days, I never found the opportunity to just walk straight in to eat. There was always a queue. On this particular day, I decided that I would permit the waiting time and join the queue. It's as simple as writing your name down on the list then waiting to be called. All in all, about 30 minutes waiting time can be expected.
Outside, they have a few examples of their signature beef noodle soup dishes, as well as some of the cold appetisers frequently consumed with the noodle soup.
Like most shops, restaurants or stores in this area of town. They are tucked away inside the pavement which itself is overlapped by the buildings. It's a curious design, one which suggests that it probably rains a lot and people want the ability to walk around places without getting wet. In either case, the result is we have a lot of these places out of view, and a lot of neon lights and sign boards hanging on the side of buildings to advertise their existence.
These are all the people waiting, within the crowd, i hear a mixture of languages, there is of course English, but also Japanese. Clearly this place is more than just the talk of town, but probably also TripAdvisor (no, I haven't checked).
This is the sign stating that they're a top 10 Beef Noodle Soup restaurant in Taipei according to the 2010, Taipei Beef Festival. Knowing how essential Beef Noodle Soup is in Taiwanese Cuisine, that's quite a prestigious prize!
The restaurant is arranged such that the kitchen where they prepare the noodles, broth and beef is at the front by the entrance. Like in Hong Kong, you can see the chefs working tirelessly as they prepare the various dishes. The teasing aroma that seeps outside is a reminder to the people queuing, it's worth the wait.
This is the menu of appetisers which you are given whilst waiting outside. Obviously, I was mistaken for being Korean because all the writing is in Korean !
This is the Beef Noodle Soup menu, and also where you tick off which dishes you would like to order. As soon as you enter, this is handed to the kitchen, and they prepare your food right away. The red sign is pointing the "registration". This is where you write your name down to join the queue.
Once inside, you realise the restaurant is not very large at all. The kitchen already occupies nearly a third of the available space.
The cold dishes are pre-prepared and are at the end of the kitchen near the dining tables. Some restaurants even allow customers to serve themselves. Here, they are paid for at extra cost.
At first, I thought this board was decoration. The writing looked very much like Chinese poetry or calligraphy. At closer inspection, it is actually their menu! This is an example of functional decoration!
This another board hung on the opposite wall. The bricks and mortar give the restaurant a sense of an unfinished industrial refurbishment. Of course, this was the intention of the design, and I think it bodes well with the overall atmosphere of the restaurant, fitting in with the rustic Japanese colonial style buildings of the area.
The restaurant has had a significant amount of media attention because of it's prestigious award, and as a result has framed these pieces in a glass display for all to see.
This is the dining floor. Not much space as you can see, and all tables occupied as expected. Right at the back, a formidable painting of a bull, pointing it's horns towards a set of real bull's horns. I always wondered why restaurants like to animate the animals from which their meat comes from. It's a little off putting and doesn't make the meat more appealing, quite the opposite.
Alas, the Beef Noodle Soup arrives. Let's see what all the fuss is about?
Beef Noodle Soup originated from Mainland China during the Tang Dynasty and was first prepared by the Muslim ethnic minority called Hui. Today's red braised beef noodle soup as popularised in Taiwan, came across from Chengdu, China. It wasn't until it became a popular dish in Kaohsiung that the rest of Taiwan began taking notice and also started cooking this dish.
Up first, the Red Braised Beef Noodle Soup - "Highest Quality".
Beef in the noodle soup tends to lose it's flavour the longer it is left in it's soup as the soup dilutes the taste. On the other hand, beef tends to absorb more flavour the longer it is left in it's sauce. It is this restaurants desire to allow it's guests to choose how much taste is retained in the beef and noodles.
The little piece of paper suggests that you take a sip of the noodle soup for reference, then take some noodles and put it in the small empty bowl. Then, according to the degree of taste of the soup, you can add the beef to the noodles in the small ball, and garnish with the picked vegetables. If the taste is too strong, then add some more soup to dilute. If the taste is too bland, you can add more braised sauce to the mix.
To most Chinese people, Taiwanese cuisine is known for being light. Not only is it not very salty, it's also not very oily. So, my preference was to add more beef sauce to the mix!
I really enjoyed the ability to eat the beef with noodles dry. One of the things that stand out to me was how soft the meat was. You could "chew" it with your tongue!
This is the half tendon half meat, beef noodle soup. This is the classic dish that most people will be familiar with. There is an option for full meat instead of half tendon. I would say go for the latter. It's probably the tastiest part of the meat, and also good for people who need some collagen supplementation.
The scallion doesn't just add to the visual appeal of the dish, it also brings out a rich herbal scent that makes the soup taste more flavoursome.
After the noodle soup, I was craving for some dessert, unfortunately these specialised restaurants don't serve desserts.
So I wandered around for about 30 seconds and came across this bubble tea stall. Instead of opting for bubble tea, I was curious about the colourful fruit teas. Some are a mix of quite contrasting colours, others just a single colour.
I opted for a mixed fruit tea, which I thought would be a gradient of colours. Turns out it's just pink. Still, it was worthy of a refreshment and there's always a big variety to choose from, you could never get bored of choice!
Finally, another short wander from the bubble tea place, and we're at the main entrance to the Ximen MRT station.
Here, the lights are very bright, and there are so many stalls everywhere.
One stall that caught my eye was this Starfruit ice stall. Also originally from Chengdu, this store was founded in 1966 and thus has over 50 years of history. Interestingly, the store has maintained it's original appearance and even selling it's original Starfruit ice, Plum ice and Pineapple ice.
Starfruit takes 3 full months to brew before being ready to serve. It's known for it's particularly sour taste. It's quite different from the sugar filled desserts and drinks we're used to in the modern day, and it certainly gave me a strong kick when I took my first sip. It has a cheeky fragrance with a bit of spice. Despite the odd taste, it was definitely authentic and most importantly natural. Really great for granting some relief after a long hot day.
This is my closing picture of the Ximen pedestrian area. One of the oldest places in Taipei, and yet one of most visited. In a later blog, we'll take another look at Ximen more closely, and discover the reasons why it remains one of the most popular places to visit in Taipei.
Today, we learned about the origins of one of the most popular local dishes in Taiwan, the Beef Noodle Soup. Not only did we find out about it's acclaimed history, we also had the chance to visit one of the absolute best restaurants in Taipei to enjoy this dish. It turns out that the preparation has indeed evolved some what over time, and now people are discovering many new ways to prepare, cook and eat this traditional food.
For people who have had Beef noodle soup elsewhere, you will be surprised by the stark contrast of taste the Taiwanese version will bring you, and for that reason, I highly recommend this dish as one of the must haves during your (potential) stay in Taiwan.
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