Taiwanese Beef Noodle Slurp

In food on 01/27/2009 at 10:28 am

Another treasure from my trove of family recipes surprisingly not available in restaurants is Taiwanese beef noodle soup. This is perhaps also one of the few famous beef dishes in the cuisine. The closest we’ve come to the authentic is Happy Beef Noodle House in Flushing. The other half enjoys the niú nǎn 牛腩 version which comes with tendon instead of chunks of meat. A new wrinkle I learned is the addition of chopped up sour mustard green or preserved vegetable as an accompaniment. Must be a Mainlander thing.

Chinese Muslims who fled to the island of Formosa during the period of Chiang-Kai Shek’s withdrawal in the 1950s introduced the halal version of the soup to the rest of the population. We kicked it up several notches to make it what it is today. Apparently it was adopted as a national dish despite the lack of native wheat to make the noodle and the Taiwanese aversion to beef given their love for the water buffalo. There’s even an annual Beef Noodle Soup Festival in Taipei now.

I don’t know what it is about this combo that’s so soul-satisfying, but I love flat wide wheat noodles used in this soup, and clearing out my sinuses from the heat. I prefer wheat noodles in all my soups. They are far superior to any other pasta because of the slickness, the easy slurp-factor and the QQ springiness . And they’re not as heavy as semolina pasta which can be gummy and not absorb flavors as well. The only competition in my book is the lai fun used in asam laksa, a rice noodle which I’m currently on the hunt for as I perfect my own recipe for that dish.

The absolute key to this dish is the Szechuan peppercorns, any substitute and it’s not the real thing. If you leave the soup clear, it’s Vietnamese phô. Szechuan peppercorns are totally different from any other pepper, and they have a bad boy image since they used to be banned in this country because they harboured the citrus canker. The ban was lifted when the FDA required heating the pods up to kill the bacteria before import. In fact, they are actually a fruit of a plant, hence the other name for them, 花椒  flower pepper; they are not related to black or chili pepper at all. The flavor is something close to a hot lemon; the aroma stings your nose and numbs your mouth. I make sure to strain out the peppers in the final dish because they don’t taste good.

szechuan pepper


Beef w/Tendon-ous bits (brisket, chuck or any cheap chunk of meat)

Flat, widest wheat noodles (We used to get it in huge 5lb boxes, but now, it’s only available in small packets at two stores in Chinatown. We’re always running out of it.)


Green Onion

Szechuan peppercorn

Star Anise

Chili Bean Paste (This milder form is soybean heavy, spice light. It gives the soup it’s deep red color, but you can substitute with sriracha+ chili oil)

1 cup Chinese cooking wine


Soy sauce

Salt & Pepper

Bitter Greens

Preserved Vegetable or Sour Mustard Green for garnish

Cut beef into large cubes. Put into pot (8 qt). Brown beef in olive oil, then add 1/2 full with water, with smashed ginger pieces and large sections of green onion. Simmer 30 min with cooking wine.

Meanwhile, saute Szechuan peppercorn in a skillet until fragrant. Add chili bean paste, sugar, soy sauce to taste. Mix well, add to soup pot.

Add 4-5 star anise. Simmer at least another 30 min, until beef very tender. Salt & pepper to taste.

Boil noodles by portion in separate pot. These cook fast, usually under 2min. Top with soup. Optional garnish with scallions, blanched greens, chopped preserved vegetables or sour mustard green. Slurp away!

Bonus Recipe: Braised Beef Tendon

This is the common method to cook meats, called red braising, slow and steady, infusing flavor into it and rendering tough cuts tender as a baby’s bottom.


Beef Tendon (also can be chicken, pork, boiled slightly cracked eggs, tofu skins or firm tofu)

Soy Sauce

Chili Powder (can be Chinese dried type snapped in half, or sriracha, whatever you have handy)

Star Anise (whole pieces, approx 3-4)

1 Tbsp Sugar

Garlic (as many smashed cloves as you like)

Boil up equal parts soy sauce to water, enough to cover whatever you’re braising. Add all other ingredients. Simmer for at least 1.5 hours. For tendon, that is the optimal cooking time, not too mushy and not too crunchy. Take out the pieces and slice with a fork or tongs and sharp knife. Top your beef noodle soup.

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