Tuesday, October 13, 2009

[台北] - Tu Hsiao Yueh Authentic Original Tainan Peddler Noodle 1895 - Yong Kang Street location (台南度小月擔仔麵永康街 台北)

If you make one visit to Taiwan, to either Taipei or Tainan City, make this place at the top of your list. Forget Din Tai Fung and Xiao Long Bao! This historical bowl of noodle$ is something you will remember for a lifetime and come back again to.

While Manhattan's legendary Katz's Deli started circa 1888, around the same time, a Mr Hung Yutao (originally from Fujian province in China), learn and lived the trade of a fisherman off the coast of Tainan in Taiwan. Strangely, Yutao in Mandarin means "taro" (the purple vegetable root). But what he did was no fluke.The life of a fisherman was never glamorous. Typhoon season during JUL - SEP prevented going out to sea safely. That meant finding alternate sources of income, or starve. Mr Hung did not give up and remembered a receipe for a bowl of noodles he learned in Fujian, and quickly came up with his own version after much trial and error. He then created a makeshift street stall, and made it all portable, carrying the bulk of the equipment/goods hung from a long pole across his shoulder. And thus the "peddler" noodle (daan jai mien, or daa ah mi in Taiwanese Fujianese) was born. From then on, he would operate in different locations during the day, but by night would usually settle aroundthe local temple 2 am onwards, and would get visits from hungry pilgrims till dawn. The stall allowed him to socialize with locals, and endure the rough typhoon season. It was such a good career that he gave up his nets and boats. Thus the eventual business/store name that came to fruition in 1895 (first in Tainan) became Tu Hsiao Yueh, or "gently slacking for month" to make it eloquent (yet called Slack Season Noodles on the website).

114 years later, ownership has passed down to the 4th generation of the Hung family. This particular location is one of two Taipei city branches of Tainan's original Tu Hsiao Yueh, and interestingly right around the corner from the headquarters of Din Tai Fung Taipei. While Japanese and Hong Kong FOB tourists wait in line for XLB at DTF, savvy eaters head to THY around the corner instead.

So the Daan Jai Mien or Peddler noodle, what's the receipe for success?

It's really simple- fresh perfect noodles (or your choice of thin rice noodles or flatter kind)- broth or no broth (say YES to broth, it is not made with pork bones but grounded shrimp without the heads, naturally sweet and wonderous)- rou zou (finely minced and simmered pork). The pot is never cleaned and almost always cooking. The founder used his rou zou pot for 50+ years, passed it to his son, and eventually the pot cracked. Now it is on display somewhere. The crusty edges of the pots in the restaurants look unappetizing, but it is very safe and clean to eat. The pork is stewed with soy sauce, shallots and attains almost a puffy light texture, yet deep in flavors.- condiments including bean sprouts, some black vinegar, wee bitta garlic.From street stall to restaurant to innovative and modernized digs restaurant (upwards of 4 to 5 locations, not franchised), THY is not only a historical culinary treasure of Taiwan but a modern marvel. The Yong Kang Street location interior looks like a kaiseki restaurant. Presentation down to the finest detail is marvelous. As the 4th generation owner tries to re-invent the classic bowl, his philsophy is "eat with all your senses". Included on the menu are additional varieties like soups, appetizers, small plates that represent a taste of Tainan, with elegance and eloquence. Do not miss the salt and pepper grilled milkfish belly (with a green lemon wedge squeeze for sextra pleasure), or the perfect chawanmushi accented with konbu dashi that will blow away all SF Bay Area Japanese restaurant versions (including Kaygetsu or Wakuriya). (Update Jan 2010, they no longer serve the chanwanmushi :-(  ) The peddler noodle bowls are small, but cheap NT$50 or $1.75. It won't fill you up, but the idea is to savor with all your senses. On my first visit I ended up eating 2 bowls, but there was one memorable customer according to the current owner who ate upwards of 18 bowls.

Youtube video of the restaurant's noodle kitchen setup (like a mock street vendor)

Website: http://www.iddi.com.tw/ with Japanese and English versions of the site. Japanese TV station NHK even came over and Japanese tourists are in the know of this place.

The menu

Lots of pretty pictures, also in English and Japanese to accomodate tourists (especially those overflowing from the crazy wait at Din Tai Fung!)

The kitchen (at stool level) by the entrance, simulating how the founder set up shop (carrying the contents on his shoulder)

Choose your starch: yellow noodles = yoh mien(油麵 ), the noodles in the bowl are ban tiao (板條), and of course the important mifen (米粉 ) thin rice noodles in the front.

The chef cooks the noodles first.

Strains and adds broth

Don't forget that simmered egg!

And bean sprouts!

Cannot forget the rou zou (minced stewed pork), a very important item. Note that this pot has been used for a long long time, they just add on top. The overcooked/burnt crud makes it look disgusting but it does not dampen the eating experience at all, and part of the charm!

Their base broth/stock made with shrimp.

Supposed to get only one piece of shrimp. My lovely better half gave me hers!

Someone's appetizer that looked so good I snapped a shot.

All locations of Tu Hsiao Yeh sell cans of the minced stewed pork to go, for the homesick and those who want a keepsake to take with them Kudo$ to you if you get this past US customs! Not cheap by Taiwan, averaging US$5 a can, and the jar is outsourced to a vendor (not made by THY).

台南度小月擔仔麵 (Tainan Tu Hsiao Yeh Peddler Noodle)

Yong Kang Street #9-1,Taipei City, Taiwan (Yong Kang Street branch)