Origins: The Historical past of Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Heat spices, pickled mustard greens, slurpable wheat noodles, wealthy beef broth: Such are the lip-smacking hallmarks of Taiwanese beef noodle soup (牛肉麵), an oft-heralded nationwide dish (and supreme consolation meals) of Taiwan. The dish wasn’t at all times so beloved, nevertheless. In reality, earlier than 1895, Taiwanese of Han Chinese language descent (who now account for greater than 97 % of the inhabitants) ate beef no extra usually than Twenty first-century Individuals eat cats or canines (cringe, I do know).
Beef was taboo in Taiwan. So at what level in historical past did beef noodle soup turn into so quintessential to Taiwanese delicacies?
Like many issues on the island, the dish’s existence is owed to a long time of colonialism, world politics, and army engagements—exterior influences which have left an indelible imprint on Taiwan’s native delicacies.
It’s definitely not unusual for cuisines to be formed by different cultures. However in Taiwan, a small island handed round by world powers that also lacks official “nation” standing, these influences appear outsize, and the delicacies all of the extra outstanding for its skill to soak up and evolve whereas remaining distinctly Taiwanese.
The historical past of beef noodle soup, beginning with three highly effective nations and ending in each nook store of Taipei, offers the proper instance.
The Japanese Obsession With Meat
Taiwan, early 1895: Unknown to many Taiwanese, the Qing Empire—the nation of which their island was a distant and uncared for possession—was combating a warfare towards the empire of Japan.
In April, the Qing courtroom in Beijing signed a peace treaty and surrendered sovereignty over Taiwan to Asia’s rising energy, ushering in 50 years of Japanese rule. The victors, who got here from a densely populated archipelago that struggled to feed itself, have been desirous to faucet Taiwan’s agricultural potential. Quickly they have been drawing up plans to develop and systemize the sugar business. Over the following few a long time, banana, candy potato, pineapple, rice, and tea harvests grew in leaps and bounds.
The Japanese additionally pushed meat. They attributed the imposing top of the Westerners they encountered to the foreigners’ meat-eating habits. If the nation was to carry its personal, the federal government believed, the individuals would wish extra protein. By the point they took management of Taiwan, consumption of pork, beef, and dairy merchandise was rising quickly in Japan.
However the Taiwanese shunned beef. On the lowlands, water buffalo have been ubiquitous—rice farmers trusted them to pull plows and pull carts. Quite than see bovines as dumb beasts of burden, rural Taiwanese regarded them as valued servants. Pioneers knew that oxen have been essential to their efforts to transform wilderness into paddy fields.
Folktales implied that solely a supremely ungrateful farmer would kill and eat his buffalo. Buddhist parts inside standard faith bolstered a perception that to slay a cow can be to ask karmic retribution.
The Nineteenth-century Japanese colonial authorities cast forward, importing cattle appropriate for meat manufacturing and organising slaughterhouses. By the Nineteen Thirties, Taiwanese beef was being canned and exported, in addition to fed to Japanese immigrants and the Taiwanese city elite.
Chinese language Refugees and the U.S. Navy
Following Japan’s defeat on the finish of World Struggle II, Taiwan was dominated by the Kuomintang Get together, aka the Chinese language Nationalist Get together, of Chiang Kai-shek. The nationalists’ shut alignment with Washington led to inflows of American meals help, together with wheat flour that was made into noodles and dumplings. On the similar time, the regime’s introduction of obligatory army service meant that some younger Taiwanese males bought their first style of beef in a military canteen.
Taiwan grew to become crowded with refugees from the Chinese language mainland. Just like the Japanese earlier than them, the Chinese language nationalists labored to extend agricultural output. Angus, Brahman, and Hereford cattle have been launched from the U.S. for cross-breeding with native strains. Through the Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, this native manufacturing was supplemented by American canned beef, meant for the hundreds of U.S. troopers stationed on the island however diverted to native eateries.
In reality, the emergence of beef noodle soup as an area specialty has lots to do with servicemen—not Individuals, however the a whole bunch of hundreds of Chinese language nationalist troopers who’d adopted Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan in 1949.
By the Nineteen Sixties, these males have been retiring from the armed forces in droves. The pensions they acquired have been minimal, in order that they needed to discover methods to assist themselves. Many have been from areas the place beef-eating taboos weren’t robust, and the place wheat noodles are a staple. The streets of Taipei have been quickly dotted with beef noodle eating places.
Among the many refugees have been Muslims. One of many first beef noodle eating places to make use of top-notch native meat, as an alternative of U.S. army “surplus,” was a halal institution.
The Beginning of Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Completely different neighborhoods within the capital grew to become related to specific variations of the dish. Close to Taipei Important Station, cooks from Shandong specialised in beef noodles offered in a semi-clear qīngdùn stew — a easy broth flavored with salt, soy sauce, maybe a splash of rice wine, and nothing else. For Sichuan-style variants, Yongkang Avenue (which continues to be standard with food-loving vacationers, and never only for beef noodles) was the place to go.
Many assume that Taiwanese beef noodle soup unfold out from Taipei. But some meals historians argue it was really created greater than 300 km to the south, within the city of Gangshan. When a Sichuan beef dish was flavored with home made spicy soybean paste, beef noodle soup because it’s now understood formally got here into being.
Curiously, the previous capital of Tainan, which is nearly as far down island as Gangshan, developed a particular beef dish of its personal. Tremendous skinny slices of uncooked beef, from an animal slaughtered simply hours earlier, are dropped right into a piping-hot clear soup simply earlier than supply to the desk. It’s a bit like Vietnamese pho, however with out rice noodles or bean sprouts.
As soon as martial regulation was lifted in 1987, democratization and expressions of beforehand suppressed Taiwanese id adopted. Each nation wants a nationwide delicacies — and hearty, comforting beef noodle soup emerged as a key merchandise in Taiwan’s, alongside braised-pork rice, scallion pancakes, and smelly tofu.
An absence of land on which livestock will be raised hasn’t slowed development in Taiwan’s urge for food for beef. These days, greater than 95 % of the meat eaten on the island is imported. (Nonetheless, annual per-capita beef consumption in Taiwan stays modest by Western requirements. From lower than 0.7 kg in 1968, it crept upward to 2.5 kg in 1991, and to six.8 kg in 2019. Within the U.S. in 2019, it was 26.4 kg.)
In case you order a bowl of beef noodle soup in Taipei right this moment, it’s doable that each ingredient, aside from the water and the greens, got here from abroad. This use of worldwide commodities to plot very native flavors is the story of postwar Taiwanese delicacies in a nutshell.
The place to Attempt Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup in Taipei
Halal Beef Noodles (清真黃牛肉麵館; 23, Yanping South Highway; map), which has been round because the early Fifties, affords nearly 100 beef-soup permutations. Alternate options to standard wheat noodles embrace soy vermicelli and dense, crouton-like “bread” cubes. The menu additionally lists beef potstickers, boiled beef dumplings, and beef-filled pita.
Mazendo (麻膳堂; 24, Lane 280, Guangfu South Highway; map) has discovered success with its mala (麻辣)-flavored beef noodle soups, standard with those that like a Sichuan-style spiciness to their meals.
Being the hang-out of eminent students —it’s a stone’s throw from Taiwan’s most prestigious college — isn’t Dashenggong Beef Noodles’ (大聲公臺大牛肉麵; 54-6, Xinsheng South Highway Part 3; map) solely declare to fame: Gourmets adore the restaurant’s spicy shacha sauce (牛油沙茶辣椒醬), made on-site utilizing beef tallow as an alternative of the same old soybean oil.
Higher often called the putative inventor of bubble milk tea, the Chun Shui Tang (春水堂; 66 Zhongxiao West Highway Part 1; basement of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Taipei Station Retailer; map) chain additionally does an distinctive beef noodle soup (pictured beneath), a lot praised for its trace of spice.
Concerning the authors: Tainan-based Steven Criminal and Taipei-based Katy Hui-wen Hung are the authors of A Culinary Historical past of Taipei: Past Pork and Ponlai (Rowman & Littlefield).