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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

阿宗麵線 Ay Chung 西門町 Xiemending Taipei

Some of you in the San Francisco Bay Area (Richmond, Milpitas) and San Gabriel may be familiar with the name Ay-Chung. Sometime around 2003, Ay-Chung Noodle opened up branches in Southern California, Milpitas (Nor Cal), and at one point attempted launches in Houston and Richmond (Nor Cal). Each US location offered a wide variety of Taiwanese street food snacks from appetizers, rice plates, noodle plates, teppan steak set meals, soups, soy sauce marinated mini dishes, teas, slushes, tapioca milk tea. A$Ns love variety like some cheap a$$ buffet, but we know that when you de-specialize in your offerings like that, you run the risk of watering them down at the same time.

No idea what happened but it looks like almost all of the locations have shut down. Not sure about San Gabriel or Las Vegas locations...

And if I were the OG $hiznit Ay-Chung (like this one), I'd be mad too at misrepresenting the brand. So this loving writeup is dedicated to them.

The ORIGINAL Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle 阿宗麵線, is located in the hustle and bustle always busy and trendy Xiementing District. 西門町 Ay Chung has at least two locations in Taipei (the other one being Shih Lin Night Market) and quality between the two are very consistent with each other.

The difference here is that AC offers only ONE product (choose between small or large cup or bowl), the flour rice noodle (Ah Jung Mien Sien 阿宗麵線) , nails and pounds that shit to the ground. About 2 ish years ago they started offering tea drinks on the menu, just to keep it simple. But everyone goes and gets a bowl or two.

Ay Chung is over 30 years old. Same receipe, same menu. Still as popular as ever. Original owner already handed it down to his son.

Really simple procedure at any Ay Chung Taipei location.

1) Go line your ass up

2) Specify quantity and size

3) Respond when asked (in Mandarin) if you want black vinegar, garlic, cilantro

4) Pay

Steps 2-4) takes about 15 seconds, and you get your order by the end of the process if you don't freeze like a deer in headlights.

Here's a clip of the chef scoopin the good stuff ad nauseum

5) When you get your order move to the side. Add chili sauce if you want, use sparingly, it is mindf***kingly devasting but abusively good.

6) If at the XMD 西門町 flagship location, you eat standing up, I guess a true definition of a noodle bar! Take that David "MomoFukMe" Chang! If your order is not to go, and you are done, dunk the plastic bowl into a bucket of dirty dishes. Discard plastic spoons separately as trash.

6b) if at the Shihlin Night Market location you may go inside their bench seating area with flatscreen TV and fans. No tables so avoid spilling that hot shizzle on your lap like a McLawsuit.

Purchased from the Shihlin Night Market location of Ay Chung

Ay Chung's noodles is a sexcellent example of why Taiwanese street food rocks. A run down of its contents

- the base broth is made with katsuoboshi (dried bonito flakes, and a key ingredient and literally the soul of all Taiwanese broths), soy sauce and other secret ingredients. Thickened with yam starch (or something similar) but overall a light bite. When you are almost finished with your bowl, you see residual bonito flakes.

- the mien sien 麵線 noodles are uber soft (some might think soggy) but were likely salted and dried in the sun.

- bamboo shoots (very thinly sliced)

- very finely minced garlic brings out the flavors

- black vinegar (optional adding at Shihlin location), this adds additional sensory tickles (savory, sour, ooo-mommy). It is like how black vinegar enhances eating xiao long bao.

- chitterlings or finely cut small pieces of pork intestines with good bounce but not rubbery or too tough.

- cilantro on top that should be a mild distraction even if you hate that stuff.

This is highly recommended also by tourist guides, and also a big hit with Japanese and European tourists to Taiwan as well.

阿宗麵線 (西門町) Ay Chung Ximending Flagship store Taipei
台北市萬華區峨嵋街8之1號‎  (Man Hua District, Er Mei Street 8 of #1)
Tel: 02-2620-9989‎

阿宗麵線 (士林夜市) - Ay Chung Shihlin Night Market branch
台北市士林區文林路101巷24號1樓‎ Taipei City Shihlin District, Wen Lin Road 101 Alley, #24, 1st Fl
Tel: 02-2883-8058‎

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

[台北] - 藍家割包 Lan Jia Gua Bao - pork belly burger steamed bun at its finest - BELLY GOOD

A quick disclaimer before I begin: I never had formal Mandarin lessons, and my version of the romanization of the characters are not based on proper pinyin.

With that in mind, let's start with a brief lesson in conversational Mandarin (aka Outrageous Chinese). It is important to note that certain words follow an order. Make them out of order and be prepared to have a little fun (at your or someone else's expense). Or if you add an additional word, it can take on a whole new meaning.


You want to compliment a woman (or a man's) spiffy and great looking leather handbag. You can say

"Ni de pee bao jun hao kan!" (你的皮包真好看!)

but if you say

"Ni de bao pee jun hao kan" (你的包皮真好看!)

you just complimented someone on their great looking foreskin. Unless of course, their handbag or manbag looks like it was made with brand name foreskins....(shameless mention of course, the jokes about rubbing a wallet made out of foreskins becomes a suitcase moments later)

Lesson #2:

Gua Bao 割包 (the characters referring to shaved or cut bun) is what bloggers and budding gourmets refer to as the Taiwanese Hamburger. It is a no nonsense classic snack consisting of

- braised oinkalicious and oinkshii juicy pork belly (aka 五花肉) in spices/herbs/soy sauce.
- marinated/preserved sour veg (finely diced) 梅干菜
- finely ground peanuts (sometimes in powder form)
- cilantro 香菜

all put together in a light airy steamed doughy bun (better than those served with Peking Ducks in the USA).

And here's where to find one of the definitive versions in Taipei. Best of all, it is very close to Taipei University, where students can eat superb authentic small flavorful snacks, all on a budget.

The name of this joint is called Lan Jia Gua Bao (or Blue's Place Gua Bao) 藍家割包 where not only they specialize in Gua Bao, but also something that translates to Four Gods Soup 四神湯 (which interestingly tastes very similar to a Cantonese slow fire cooked herbal soup known as "Ching Bo Leung")

The Gua Bao station is actually a pushcart "kitchen" facing the street! Convenient for those getting it to go

 You sit down, write down what you want on the pad, and hand that sheet to waitstaff who will bring the food to your table. Oh yeah, no tipping needed.

The explanation of Four Gods Soup 四神湯 (sorry bout the reflection of the light)

Four Gods Soup 四神湯 which has barley and your choice of pig intestine and/or stomach (both are really really good)

Four Gods Soup 四神湯 contains dried mountain yam (yamaimo), lotus seed, and two more Chinese herbs I cannot translate. Each herb has a specific healing attribute, but combining them all can do wonders to your intestinal tract.

When you finish you then pay your bill at the front, and make it to the next stop.

I'm told that the owner of the store (who I'm sure is one seriously rich arse mofo), spent countless hours experimenting with the right proportions for his signature offering of Gua Bao. Something so simple, yet it has to be an exact science to end up with a perfect result.

5 different ratios of pork belly to choose for your gua bao! Lean, Fat, combo, combo w/more lean, and combo w/more fat. Recommended when you are traveling, is NOT to hold back and be a calorie whore. Go for the bandonkadonk fat fest. Big IS Beautiful as they say. The best part is, it is all light on the lips. Doesn't even taste filling! Oh yes, like fruity wine coolers that you can imbibe without knowing how drunk it can make you.

Eating here again recently got me thinking of some of the more current food events. If you think the pork belly steamed buns at Heaven's Dog (SF), or David Chang's Momofuku are god's gift to avante garde cutting edge mofo fusion fancy cuisine, you seriously need to get your head examined or re-calibrated by coming here.

While I have never (nor will I ever) consume one of these $7 to $9+ versions done by Phan or Chang, they are a complete farce once you've had a Lan Jia Gua Bao, about the size (volume wise) of an In & Out hamburger, but yet is only US$1.50 per. Tastes insanely great, much less filling.

The Phan and Chang versions have the pork either roasted or braised rather plainly, maybe brined beforehand, then covered in a little hoisin sauce and a scallion stick (the white part), then called a day. It is as if they're trying a Peking Duck version (Peking Pork?) of the handisnack. Worse yet, Chang's cookbook apparently offers a receipe for making the buns, yet the dood outsources them to pre-made (frozen?) versions at his restaurants.

Lan Jia Gua Bao... man the effort each piece of love is put in.

- a meticulous stewed/braised/simmered pork belly receipe where even the lean cuts are soft yet dances off your teeth and the fatty skin portions feel more collagenic than heart stopping goodness.
- delicately chopped preserved mustard greens (mei gan tsai 梅干菜) that while pungent by themselves in raw form, take away the heaviness of the pork

- shaved peanut powder adds a touch of sweetness

- some cilantro to make it comforting

- in house made perfected steamed buns, like marshmellows but are firm enough to hold the goodness.

These guilty sexy steps are repeated ad naseum by the vendor

藍家割包 (Lan Jia Gua Bao)
台北市中正區羅斯福路三段316巷8弄3號‎  (Taipei City, Zhongzen District, Roosevelt Road, 3rd portion, Alley 316, 8 "long", No. 3, it's very close to Gong Guan MRT station, across from NTU/National Taipei Univeristy)
Tel: 02-2368-2060‎

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

勝興客棧‏ (客家菜) 苗栗縣 - The Broken Bridge authentic Hakka Taiwanese Food - Sanyi Village, Miaoli County, Taiwan

When some pretentious asswipe gets their ego stroken by a rip-off chef owner (with an even bigger ego) to think that they are eating the best stuff of earth, whether it's some gourmet fancy five dollar sign cost rated establishment, or even a douchey rip off place designed to look like mom's kitchen, to the point that the asswipe is saying "oh I feeling like I'm eating at someone's home", you know they need to cut down on the e-BS they write, eat at home more often than fill their pipes outside with heavy creamy butter ladened dishes, farmed otoro and Japanese/Japanese style beef fu$ion dishe$ with 99% fat.

To really appreciate what "it feels like I'm eating mom's authentic OG $hiznit cooking" really means for a cuisine you absolutely cannot get in the USA, you travel to the headquarters of said cooking, right to the source.

Bourdain, if you fly to Taiwan to do a show, dedicate one segment to a place like this!

After visiting a local ranch in Miaoli County 苗栗縣, nearing central Taiwan last month, we 4 cylinder schlepped up the hill over mountainous roads, and reached Sanyi village, in particular a very tiny village in the mountains there, in Hakka Taiwanese heartland.

The name of this place per the business card is The Broken Bridge (Hakka Food), or Hsen Hsing Kir Jian 勝興客棧‏. Interestingly just a stone's throw away from a local (defunct?) train station.

A place easily 30 to 50 years old.
An array of condiments, chili sauces, made in house for sale to visitors.
An old flag celebrating the Hakka Tung Blossom Festival (a local flower)
It doesn't get more authentic than uber old stuck in the past hostel/restaurant that sells in house made jarred condiments for cooking (like sauces and dips), but you really want to come here for the food.

 The interior
Interior decorations

 Very informal dining settings, not a date or Michelin starred place by any means.

The proprietress, a Hakka Taiwanese grandma, presented the menu to us. Uber old school and has a slight Japanese feel to it.

The short list, also showing what we ordered. (NT$30 is roughly US$1)

Self help utensils

Two specials dishes (the right one is Hakka style sour bamboo shoots). "BON FUN" was interestingly written in the Hakka dialect, to mean "dis shit goes great with rice, beeeyoch!". We got a kick out of that one.

Rice is free and self help. However if you leave any uneaten rice in your bowl, they will tack on NT$50 per person (NT$30 is roughly US$1). Remember this is a farming village, respect the rice bitch, or Chow Yun Fat will point a gun to your head like A Better Tomorrow Two!

Words cannot describe the vibe and atmosphere of the place, so perhaps the photos do a little justice.

This place is family owned, and the head oba-saan (sorry to use a Japanese reference here) comes over and shows you the menu which almost looks like something Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba would do, except it's written on wood. You also have the option of noting down what you want on the checklist paper menu. Prices are a tad bit higher than eating off the streets (though very affordable) but rest assured you're getting truly unique grub.

The feast of a lifetime went like this

Jiangxi Da Tsang 薑絲大腸 - Hakka Taiwanese style pork intestines stir fried with ginger. A strong vinegar presense but in a very good way. I hate to use a word that should only be used to describe pasta and rice, but AL DENTE this good shit was. Might be a bit too chewy for some, but it was dead on perfect in all aspects.

Kir Jia Xia Fung 客家小封- Stewed Hakka Taiwanese pork belly with bamboo shoots. Forget that Ton Kiang Mon Kiang San Francisco BS or Canto pork belly clay pot with sweet preserved veg...this is it. Everything grandma and grandpa make here are local, fresh, natural (not necessarily organic). It's their culinary skills at stake, no M$G at all in anything they make. Taiwanese black pork? You betcha. Outsmokes any version of kurobuta no kakuni at any izakaya or ramen place in the USA. Such a joy, such a delight.

Kir Jia Bahn Tiao 客家板條 - Paaah, you say, it looks like a pseudo Cantonese style ho fun noodle dish. (buzzer sound) dude (or dudette) you don't know anything until you've tried it. Yes it looks like Canto ho fun, but this is Hakka Taiwanese style bahn tiao which while is the same thing in principle, is freshly made, slippery smooth and juicy once it soaks up the sauce. This is a flat rice noodle so amazing it's not funny. Even the scallions, mushrooms, carrots as very simple ingredients, shined. Grandpa (or grandma) knows how to stir fry!

Kir Jia Xiao Tsao 客家小炒 - Hakka Stir Fry. This one's an interesting dish. It's basically chop suey kind of mixed stir fry. But it's got bits of squid, dried marinated tofu strips, scallions, rather chewy pieces of pork. The flavors were great, though this was not the top dish of the evening (like the pork or bahn tiao).

Kir Jia Dou Fu 客家豆腐- Hakka Taiwanese style tofu. OK a few of you may have had Hakka Cantonese style fried stuffed tofu, and while that is some good shit, this prep is something not to be missed. The tofu is unlike anything I've tasted before, and has the texture of Chinese vegan wheat gluten, but even smoother (like a cross between wheat gluten and yuba). Again the scallions, mushrooms, carrots, and bits of green...this dish just shined.

Goo Dien Tsao Ji Tang 古點草雞湯 - Herbal chicken soup. Alright this was pricey at NT$350 (came to US$12 ish), but you get a whole black chicken. Not salted at all. Acquired taste likely for many. They call it Giu Da Mee in Hakka Taiwanese (the 古點草 herb I suppose).

The granny greeted us as we left, and closed up shop by 6 pm (it was already sundown). We spoke with her briefly telling her how much we enjoyed the food and that 3 of us were visiting from the US.
I told her, "doood PLEEZE open up a location in the US!". She smiled and appreciated the sentiments, laughed and bid us farewell after giving us the business card of the place.

勝興客棧‏ (Business card said "The Broken Bridge Restaurant" (Hakka Food) )
苗栗縣三義鄉勝興村14鄰72號‎ (Miaoli County, Sanyi Hsiang, Sheng Hsing Village, No. 72, Lin 14)
Tel: 037-873-883‎