Friday, January 22, 2010

[台北] 林東芳牛肉麵 Lin Tung Fong Beef Noodles Taipei

Yo it's da BEEF-NO guy! First post of one of my principle passions...Beef No(odle) Soup, Taiwanese style.


They say Taipei is the World's Capital for Beef Noodle Soup. Quite the cocky claim, is it not? Considering that wikipedia entry says that this dish (or bowl rather) was invented by Chinese Muslims who brought this dish past China and into Taiwan. Maybe somewhere down the line one of the dudes strayed from the faith and discovered his forbidden lust for fine swine and oinkalicious pork bone broth, and thus the early prototypes of tonkotsu ramen was born. But that's another tale another time.

Beef Noodle Soup or depending on how food PC douche you are (to call it Beef Noodles) 牛肉麵 is one of the key staple representatives of Taiwanese food and everywhere you go that serves up this bowl, you will find numerous takes on the classic that is broth, beef, and noodles.

Lin Tung Fong is an unassuming place that specializes in one of the ultimate renditions of the Bovine Noodle Shiznit, aka Niu Rou Mien in Mandarin.

How hardcore is this place? Well for starters it is open from 11 am till 6:30 am the next day! That's almost 19 F**KING HOURS of continuous operation! That rulez so hard it ownz my colon and tongue already. It's already very famous amongst locals and gourmet bloggers alike. If I read the signage right, they are closed on Sundays. While this is not by far the absolute best beef noodle soup in town, it is extremely convenient for those hungry from lunchtime to dawn.

The first time I was here, it was midnight and the place was already 95% full. During most times of the day, expect to see long lines. However the waiting time on average is not very long, as the restaurant space you see in the photos is bigger than what it normally is. After regular dinner hours, they close down the extended indoor restaurant space and only open up the area next to the kitchen, or if it gets really busy they open the overflow area that's a bit brighter and tidier.

People know that they are not here to chit chat or social. It's STFU and eat, slurp, munch, gulp, awww yeah. Then pay the guy standing nearby (who's over 6 feet tall and quite buff in case you try to be a real ass bandito) and leave.

The dining area right by the kitchen (facing the street) is a lot more nitty gritty and street like, so don't expect table cloth and chair dining. You also have to share tables with strangers, which is not a bad thing as that adds to the atmosphere that you are eating with and rubbing elbows with the locals.

On the tables are self serve condiments including 3 kinds of chili oil and spices, something called "butter" in Chinese but is actually a paste essence of beef goodness (aka marinated FAT), in addition to a box of tissue to clean up after yourself. In some cases the tissues come in handy in the event you cry or shed a few tears after tasting your noodle bowl, because it's quite excellent if you want something to hit the spot.

The ordering here is done in a somewhat similar fashion to A&Js in Cupertino, where you are given a checklist sheet entirely in Chinese. They have a small range of appetizers and marinated eats before the main course comes.

Don't be afraid to try their version of soy sauce marinated yudofu (aka Hua Gan 花干), or the thinly sliced marinated pig's ear with sesame sauce 豬耳朵.

And the main course? Well the broth and noodles are standard, you choose between beef (flank cut with the sexiest looking cross cut tendons in between that all melts in your mouth), whole tendons, or half beef and half tendons (as pictured). Choose from bowl sizes Large or Small, and if you can eat the large bowl might be the best choice.

Half beef (flank) half beef tendon noodle soup 半筋半肉牛肉麵

LTF is one of the more pricier places for Beef Noodle Soup. A street food stall rendition may run you US$3 or so, but LTF's version is closer to $6 to $7 for a large bowl, which is considered expensive. That's still nothing compared to some places that charge upwards of $100 for a bowl of high end beef (maybe using Japanese Wagyu), but for something that's within the top ten best, I'm sure LTF is pretty high up there.

Menu runs like this:
Appetizer dish (you point and they bring over) - NT$30

Hua Gan - NT$30 (marinated dried tofu)

Plate of tendon - NT$130

Plate of beef intestines - NT$120

Plate of tripe (stomach lining, honeycomb!!) - NT$120

Plate of beef (sliced flank) - NT$120

Beef soup with noodles no meat - Large NT$90, Small NT$70

Beef tendon with broth (no noodles) - Large NT$230, Small NT$200

Beef tendon noodles with broth - Large NT$230, Small NT$200

Beef tendon & beef flank in broth (no noodles) - L NT$200, S $170

As above with noodles - same price

Beef flank with broth - L NT$150, S NT$120

Beef flank noodle in broth - L NT$150, S NT$120

One last tip. Your bowl of BNS may vary depending on the time of day here. Since the vat of BNS broth needs to be continuously cooked, there are certain times when the broth doesn't taste as deep as it should, as the chefs have to pour new broth/liquid in to prevent the levels from going down too much. But still great anyhoo.

That was 2007.

2 years later, came back for another visit. Still as good.
 
This time we sat in the overflow area. It was past 7 pm.

Self-help side dishes 小菜

Simmered marinated pig's ear (sesame oil, soy sauce) 豬耳朵 - chunky, crunchy yet refreshing delicious like good beef tendon. A lil' bit of chopped garlic made this go a long way. Looked surprisingly like grilled Taiwanese sausage slices. Served cold.

Marinated seaweed (hai dai) 海帶/海苔. Good thick crunchy pieces. Garlic, sesame oil. Very appetizing.

Blanched and marinated asparagus 蘆筍. Nice thin crunchy juicy stems to get your greens on (given that the Bovine-licious noodle soup would have no proper greenage, save a layer of diced scallions)


non side dish order of beef intestines 牛腸. Again a layer of sesame oil doused on top, scallions. Firm, chewy, and surprisingly decent. Reminded me of liverwurst a little bit, but I'd eat intestines over liver anyday.

non side dish order honeycomb tripe 牛肚. Great texture. For those that prefer a melt in your mouth soft experience, this is quite the opposite. Those who like it QQ as the locals say, will be delighted.

Hua Gan. 花干 Dried tofu cubes in broth. This is a must order dish when dining at LTF.

And finally the main course

Half beef flank, half beef tendon noodle soup. 半筋半肉牛肉麵
 
The cuts of flank are so chunky, yet so soft to the bite and smooth. Criss Cross cuts of tendon inbetween. The tendons have a nice mild bite to them for those who don't like melt in your mouth softies. The noodles are a lot thicker than I had remembered, but like the concept of Japanese ramen where noodle thickness should be paired with and dependent on the type of broth, serves the function of matching incredibly well with the beef stock that is rich in color, deep in flavor, yet humbly light and refreshing (you can tell a lotta labor and love went into the broth).

There are three kinds of self help spices/chili kinda sauces. One must try is a jar of dark brown paste, that in my first visit is I supposed "beef butter" aka beef FAT marinated in spices. A small scoop in your bovine noodle shiznit soup will Emeril-lize the experience, BAM!, and kick it up a few notches. If you dare, try eating this stuff plain.

The best part? You can ask for free refill of the broth! If you've come a long way just to eat here, why not load up on this bovine juice.

林東芳牛肉麵 (Lin Tung Fong Beef Noodle Soup)
台北市中山區八德路二段274號‎  (Taipei City, Zhongshan District, Ba Der Rd 2nd portion #274)
Tel: 02-2752-2556‎

10 comments:

  1. Tried this place out on a pouring Thursday night at 11 and the place was 80% packed! Beef, noodles, and soup were all quite good. Quite possibly the best "overall" beef noodles I have tried in Taipei so far. I have a couple other places I go for the beef or for the soup, but for overall experience, you can't go wrong here. Thanks for introducing this shop!

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  2. Glad you liked it! Part of the reason why this place is so popular is their crazy and convenient hours. They say it is the most busy past 11 pm, and I recall waiting 10 to 15 mins close to midnight when I got off my flight a few years back. This place did not win any awards but for a standby late night fix, it can be satisfying.

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  3. OK, I just revisited this shop. The beef is excellent here - you can tell a lot of care went into cutting the meat right and cooking it to the right tenderness. There are "no weird chunks" here. The soup is also pretty good, but I can think of two other shops that have better soup. The noodles are like Japanese udon noodles, not bad, but not that great, either. However, the overall quality of the entire beef noodle soup holds. For NT130, this is one of my top 2 favorite shops for beef noodles in Taipei atm.

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  4. It is hard not to like 林東芳. I definitely agree that it is the whole package here, and many steps above the average beef noodle vendor off the streets and other restaurants. Plus the vibe and atmosphere of eating a delicious bowl with side dishes at 12 midnight to beyond 2 am is unbeatable. I'm not a huge fan of the noodles but when you are hungry, as they are thick and chewy, it helps fill you up quickly. The best part of this location? Walk down the same side of the street towards Liao Ning St, and there's Goose City restaurant (also a fantastic place). But before that, on the corner of 八德路/Liao Ning St is a top notch foot massage place. Beef noodle + foot massage = sleep very well at night.

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  5. I have revisited a bunch of these beef noodles places in Taipei, and I have to say, 林東芳 is now my favorite. Their beef and soup are consistently good, and I have grown to like their noodles (when it's not overcooked). Recently, on a Sunday night, I couldn't get my beef noodle fix, so I tried a shop across the street: 王家麺館. Tried their wonton noodles soup. Soup is clear, wontons are fresh (good wrappers), and their noodles are excellent. I think it's the hand-made/cut variety since the noodles are all of different thickness and length. Now, if I could sneak these noodles over to 林東芳 to pair with their beef and soup, it would be PERFECT - hahaha - I'll stop ragging on 林東芳 now, since I do go there more than anywhere else!

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  6. I've only been to 林東芳 twice to date, so you have been way more times than I have! There's just so much to eat in Taipei city alone that it would take at least 2 to 3 lifetimes to eat all the restaurants (new and old), so my eating out choices are very precious when I visit.

    Do you have any new favorite side dishes and menu items that I didn't try that you recommend?

    Have you noticed any consistency differences in the broth quality during different times of day? Since they are open virtually 19 hours, the broth pot has to be continuously cooking, so I wonder how much water they add (and meat and bones on top).

    The guy who founded 林東芳 apparently has another outlet that specializes in herbal broth for their beef noodle soup. 林家藥燉原汁牛肉麵大王, address: 台北市吳興街281巷9號 (北醫急診室旁), open 11 AM to 10 PM. If you try it out let me know if it is any good.

    Just saw some blog writeups and pics of 王家麺館....their noodle looks very sexy.

    林東芳's ambiance is definitely hardcore local (similarly to eating at a dai pai dong in Hong Kong or those yatai's in Japan I suppose). Not clean, but not filthy, and amazing food. Definitely not Taipei Michelin Beef Noodle Guide material, but we certainly don't want this place overflooded than it already is :-).

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  7. Haha - I didn't try googling 王家麺館 - apparently, there are some Japanese fans, which I can believe. Their beef noodles are not as good as 林東芳: 王家麺館 has wild cuts of beef (not consistent and striated like 林東芳) which I'm not crazy about, but some people may like.

    During my years in Tokyo, I found that there are probably more noodle-soup fanatics in Japan (especially concentrated in Tokyo) than almost anywhere else. The big difference in quality between Tokyo and Taipei has been the noodle quality - there are shops in Taipei that have decent to very good toppings and soup, but it has been harder to find shops with al dente noodles. 王家麺館 is one and Master Hung's (which you introduced, is the other). BTW, I have found that out of the Japanese ramen shops in Taipei, らあめん花月嵐 (which you have also reviewed) is the best/most authentic. Too bad there is no 一風堂 in Taipei (I've heard they've expanded to NYC and elsewhere, though).

    As for 林東芳's side-dishes, I found their mini-anchoves with peanuts (carmelized sweet) to be excellent, if you haven't tried it yet. Thx for the tip on the 林東芳 branch - I will try it out and let you know if I like it.

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  8. Re: the consistency of their broth - it has been very good. The two shops that had the most consistent broth are 林東芳 and Master Hung's.

    On the way back from the library, I went looking for 林家藥燉原汁牛肉麵大王. I have no idea how you heard about this place because without Google's StreetView and your address, I would have never found it! On the way there, 吳興街 has a long section that is like a night market with lots of interesting shops. I'll have to go back and check out some of the more crowded beef noodle shops.

    林家藥燉原汁牛肉麵大王 happens to be even homier than 黃金牛肉麵餃子館‏. In fact, there is not even a special cooking area; the area where you eat is an extension of the guy's kitchen in the back. If you think 黃金牛肉麵餃子館‏ is blue-collar, this place is even more so - the eating area wasn't even very clean (a few months ago, I would've never entered a place like this, but I've gotten used to Taipei). The smell was promising - like a stronger version of the 八徳路 broth. There was one guy in his 60's and in his t-shirt, manning the entire shop. When I went in, there was one guy ordering take-out and about 6 empty tables (I was the only eat-in).

    Like always, I ordered the standard small 牛肉麵 for NT120. The broth actually tasted watered down compared to 八徳路. It lacked depth. The beef quality was also inferior - no striations like 八徳路 and it wasn't marinated long enough and the cuts were a bit weird or the cooking time wasn't right so the beef was harder to chew - a bit like jerky. The noodles were a bit flatter and not al dente as the udon-like consistency of the more popular main store.

    It did not make me sweat hot monkey sex.

    Rather, it felt like an attempt to imitate 八徳路 but somehow failed. I mean you can tell it was the same thing, but it wasn't the same at all. My recommendation is, unless your next trip to Taipei is long, skip this branch.

    The trip was not a complete loss, however. Walking around the area afterwards, I found a Lugar Home Bread Bar nearby which make excellent European style breads (olive ciabatta, french bread, etc...) - they are open from 7AM until 9:30PM and it's close enough to me that I will definitely be repeating there. Like I said, I intend to check out some of the more crowded 牛肉麵 shops in this area - will report back on those.

    If there are other interesting shops you would like me to try, definitely let me know. TTYL.

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  9. Ken-san, apologies for the delay in response. It's been crazy for me past month... Thank you for the wealth of detailed reports and information! It is nice to discover little things in all those narrow and similar looking alleyways and streets.

    I'm in process of compiling a list to try as a formal blog post but keep getting sidetracked by other things and need to research more.

    If you want to take this discussion offline feel free to contact me at mahntoh@gmail.com. Cheers!

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