Tag: food

Taiwanese beef noodle soup showdown in Houston

On a winter day in Houston, we decided on a whim to do a Taiwanese beef noodle soup (牛肉麵) showdown at some of the popular restaurants in Chinatown. My friends are hungry to hear the results, and it’s more complex than just one clear winner (like most good things in life). So I’ll describe the various restaurants’ 牛肉麵 in more detail.

Tainan Bistro

Tainan Bistro is an always-bustling casual eatery. You can order snacks at the counter, or have a sit-down meal. We ordered the two different types of beef noodle soup.

  • The “House Special” beef noodle soup has a more savory/salty taste to the broth, and the beef is sliced thinly.
  • The regular beef noodle soup is sweeter and includes the traditional pickled veggies in the broth. The beef is cut in large chunks as is usually found in traditional beef noodle soup.

We could tell that the noodles themselves were definitely cooked from a package rather than handmade; so while they were cooked decently, they just didn’t taste as good as handmade noodles. The broth is not bad, but overall not the most compelling one we tasted.

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I Ping

9888 Bellaire Blvd #138, Houston, TX 77036

I Ping Bakery changed owners recently and currently, in addition to a selection of Taiwanese baked goods, they offer a limited menu of entrees. They have a traditional beef noodle soup and a Szechuan style (spicy) beef noodle soup. We tried the Taiwanese 红烧牛肉面. Out of the restaurants we tried this was the only place that offered handmade noodles, and they make a whopping obvious difference. The noodles were the perfect texture, and I could have kept adding noodles in (I had to pace myself for the long haul). Unfortunately, the broth was thin and less complex, or else I think this bowl would have become my favorite. We enjoyed the bok choy. I think this would be a good option for someone who wants to eat less salt. Alas, I didn’t find the broth interesting enough to put this at #1.

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San Dong Noodle House

9938 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

San Dong is the OG. This was my childhood favorite restaurant for 红烧牛肉面, and honestly I confirmed that it is still my favorite overall. In the early years, they had a huge noodle-pulling machine in the back of the kitchen and I loved watching them make their own noodles. The restaurant has since expanded from their hole-in-the-wall location, but the soup still packs an intense flavor-filled punch. I think this broth achieves the ideal umami, though the cooked spinach made it a touch more bitter than the normal bok choy that everyone else uses. There were plenty of pickled mustard greens, and the beef was super tender. I wish we would have remembered to ask for the thick noodles.

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Star Snow Ice and Teriyaki (Star Snow)

9889 Bellaire Blvd Houston, TX 77036

During my high school years, Star Snow Ice was the PLACE TO BE. All of my friends were getting their shaved ice and boba milk tea from here. We’ve always been curious about their beef noodle soup because I hear varying amounts of praise. This bowl is the one I felt most “meh” about, despite nice touches like a sprig of cilantro on top. The noodles were so-so, and the broth was a little too sour. This one probably fell to last place, honestly.

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Verdict

So, how did we eat so many bowls of beef noodle soup? We split every bowl 5 ways! Overall, I would suggest going to San Dong for beef noodle soup, and ask for the thick noodles. If you’re craving handmade noodles and you’re less concerned with having the traditionally intense and complex broth, then go to I Ping Bakery.

Take this all with a grain of salt (heh). We were just looking for a fun family adventure during the holidays, and there were many things on the menus that we didn’t have time (nor tummy space) to try.

Happy slurp slurp slurp!

M.F.K. Fisher, on hunger and love

“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, about love, the way others do? The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it. There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.”

 — M.F.K. Fisher

I love that: “So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it.”

My favorite thing: cooking with a friend, curating the music while things finish on the stove, drinking champagne, eating it all later. With more champagne.

fare la scarpetta

Full-leafed trees criss-crossed the Tuscan countryside, interspersed by flat fields of green. Every now and then the land was punctuated by grape vines.  There were hints of red leaves scattered in ribbons across the hills, and the taller cypress trees lined the roads to buildings or villages; first planted as landmarks to help find your way home. I read that cypress trees have been used as a symbol of immortality to signify sacred space and a detachment from the everyday mortal world.

For every meal, the truffle or porcini that accompanied meat or pasta was picked just that morning. “It’s mushroom season,” the locals would declare with a smile. Their happiness was infectious, as if they knew a secret. And share it with us, they did.

I return often to Pico Iyer’s reminder that our greatest aspirations and virtues have always relied on a measure of inner equanimity. Some of the best moments were sprung upon us without plan — the ones that, for example, found us gazing at a lightning storm during an otherwise calm night, all of us trying to take photos or video. Despite our varied success in capturing the lightning with our various cameras, the best success was watching it in each others’ company under the open night sky. 

Though we still had the occasional everyone-sitting-around-on-their-computers moments, there was something about the remoteness of where we were staying that reminded us to be present, to sleep in, to look up at the sky.

***

For our final meal, Francesco created delicious dishes that were served during sunset. A friend used his last slice of bread to sop up the juices of the mushroom broth. Francesco came outside at that moment and grinned while watching the sopping. “That’s precisely how to do it,” he said admiringly under his breath. “Scarpetta!”

I have heard “Scarpetta” used as a restaurant name and I don’t know enough Italian to know what he meant. I’m not sure anyone else heard him say it, but I noted it to look up for later.

The next morning at an earlier hour than we all preferred after several bottles of wine, we wiped away sleep as we said goodbye to the countryside and rode towards Florence. We watched the sun rise over the Tuscan hills, our eyes sweeping over the landscape one last time. The pink-bottomed clouds leaned against the edges of horizon and even the freshly-tilled dirt looked golden.

I remembered the word from the night before and looked it up:

“Fare la scarpetta” is a phrase in the Italian language that’s close to the heart of everyone who has enjoyed a delicious plate of pasta with sauce. Meaning “make the little shoe,” it refers to the small piece of bread used to mop up the last of the sauce on your plate.

It’s not only an essential part of an Italian meal, but it is seen as a way to extend the pleasure of the repast.

***

At the airport, we hugged each other as though we were scooping up the very last bit with all our might. Fare la scarpetta, soaking up every last drop. But also, we hugged like we knew that we’d be seeing each other again very soon. Our friends around us like cypress trees, their presence meaning we have already found our way home.