Many thanks to Erin at Our Tasty Travels for letting me know that an important event in Taipei’s culinary calendar is coming up: the 2011 Beef Noodle Festival Carnival. The annual event will be held at the EXPO dome at the former Flora Expo site from 17 to 20 November.
Beef is not a traditional staple in Taiwanese cuisine. The vast majority of Taiwanese are Buddhist, and for this reason many (including my mother-in-law) have eschewed eating beef their entire life. But there are thousands of beef noodle soup (牛肉麵) outlets in Taipei and northern Taiwan, making beef noodle soup one of the classic dishes in Taipei cuisine. So how did beef noodle soup become so popular?
Well, it all started back in the late 1940s as Taiwan welcomed a wave of around two million KMT soldiers and refugees fleeing the Communist military victory in China. Some of the immigrants began to recreate familiar dishes from back home, including a type of beef soup with noodles (noodles are a popular staple in northern China). The homely dish caught on in a big way, and is now a stock-standard street food staple. It has become to Taipei residents what the classic Vietnamese breakfast soup, pho, is in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh city, to be politically correct).
Opinion is mixed as to the best way to make and serve the soup: some recipes include tomatoes, others add fresh Chinese lettuce, pickles, shallots, a hint of chilli or even some five spice powder. But invariably all good Taipei beef noodle soup uses Australian beef. I am not just showing my Aussie bias here: the Meat and Livestock Australia sponsors the event will full confidence that Australian beef tendon is the best for beef noodle soup. Most beef noodle soup outlets proudly display ‘Australian beef’ signs.
Now in its seventh year, the key highlight of the 2011 Beef Noodle Festival is the final judging with restaurants and chefs vying with each other for the prestige of winning in four different categories. The best time to view the finals is on 17 and 18 November.
But you do not need to be a judge to savour the best beef noodles. During the festival, visitors can enjoy a beef noodle sampler for only NT$50 (USD$1.60). And there are plenty of beef side dishes (小菜) to accompany as well. Other promotions include: free beef noodle soup for people celebrating a birthday, a free sampler for the first 100 visitors of the day, and free side dishes for travellers who show an airplane or high speed rail ticket. There will also be a ‘Beef Your Kitchen’ cooking demonstration and other performances.
So tell me, where do you think the best beef noodle soup is in Taiwan?