The Comforting Taiwanese Noodle Soup That's Loaded With Tender Beef

Chicken noodle may be the go-to comforting soup in the U.S., but another meat-based variant is no less delicious. Popular in China and even more so in Taiwan, such a hearty creation is full of flavor. When prepared properly, it's loaded with tender chunks of beef, bok choy, and pickled mustard greens. The contained noodles — typically wheat — are springy, perfectly melding into the soup. And despite its beef base, the broth is light and bursts with a bouquet of delicious spices.

Ubiquitous in Taiwan, this beef noodle soup is enjoyed at small restaurants and markets throughout the country. Yet despite its casual nature, it carries serious esteem. Several eateries known for serving it are noted in the Michelin guide, and the dish is even celebrated at an annual Beef Noodle Festival. Such intense competition means the food has taken on an array of refined forms. An especially popular version is called hong shao niu rou mian — and it may just be your new favorite comfort food.

Hong shao niu rou mian is a variation of Chinese soups

Like many other Taiwanese foods, this beloved beef noodle dish stems from the Chinese mainland. Beef noodle soups exist in a multitude of renditions around China, with various regional interpretations. During the 1940s, the Chinese Civil War caused a wave of immigration to Taiwan — and an especially strong culinary influence came from Sichuan, which introduced a spicy inflection to noodle dishes. Not long afterward, a distinctly Taiwanese beef noodle soup emerged and became a national classic. It's readily found throughout the island and enjoyed in marketplaces, small restaurants, and food courts.

Other variations of beef noodle soup — which are collectively known as niu rou mian — exist in the island nation, although none are more popular than hong shao, or red-braised. Due to a combination of tomatoes, chiles, and soy sauce, the broth has an appealing dark red color, and the pre-braising technique generates especially tender bites of meat.

The meat preparation techniques make hong shao niu rou mian stand out

The hong shao rendition of the noodle soup classic employs a similar set of ingredients to other niu rou mian, utilizing boneless beef shanks as the meat base and wheat noodles, two principal components. Aromatics like garlic, ginger, and onions are also consistent across versions, with bok choy and mustard green serving as frequent accompaniments. Soy sauce, tomatoes, varying spices — such as star anise or five spice — and chiles are used to flavor most Taiwanese beef noodle soups. For a dash of heat, hong shao niu rou mian also utilizes either hot peppers or doubanjiang, a chili bean paste. However, this version does not employ the tingle-inducing Sichuan peppercorns you might find in other types of niu rou mian.

The key hong shao distinction arises due to a soy-sauce braising technique. Also applied to dishes such as crispy pork belly, this method begins with parboiling the meat before frying it. After a brief saute, the aromatics are added, and the chunks of meat are cooked down in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and spices. After a quick caramelization, the rest of the components are introduced alongside several cups of water, forming a broth. Noodles and bok choy are boiled separately, and the soup comes together in a bowl full of tender beef chunks, dark greens, and a dark red aromatic broth — the perfect balance of eye-catching and delicious.