Noodles, Buns, and Dumplings



Text: Joe Henley
Photos:Maggie Song

Dough-based Delights in Taipei City’s Restaurants

Rice or noodles? This is the foundation question when eating out in Taiwan, and throughout much of Asia for that matter. While your rice options are usually either brown or white, noodles – and a variety of other dough-based staples – come in enough textures, tastes, and varieties to keep things interesting.

Hakka flat noodles, beef noodle soup, steamed dumplings, stuffed buns – this sector of the broad Taiwan culinary map draws from the cooking traditions of many regional cuisines in mainland China, but the island has also developed its own unique flavors. This fascinating mix can be taste-experienced at a few hotspot eateries in the capital, Taipei, a place where culinary traditions are honored, tweaked, and perfected.

We begin our navigation of Taipei’s dough-based treats at Beiping Tianyuan, a small restaurant in the city's Zhongzheng District, a short walk from Taipei’s main railway station. The family-run establishment has been in business for 40 years, the chefs preparing an ever-evolving array of dishes concocted by members of the Wang clan.
Now run by Sandy Wang along with her husband, the intimate, unpretentious eatery was opened by her father-in-law, Deng Qing-yu, a retired Nationalist Army soldier. After coming to Taiwan in the wake of the Chinese Civil War, he and his military buddies would often fondly recall favorite dishes they had enjoyed back home in the Beijing area, lamenting the fact that there was no place to get them in their newly adopted homeland. Eventually, Mr. Deng and company decided that the old axiom “If you want something done right, you'd better do it yourself” held true, and Beiping Tianyuan was born.

The restaurant is located in an area that has gone through a thorough revitalization of late. Previously choked by an overpass constructed to take vehicular traffic over a railway line that was eventually put underground, the blocks surrounding Beimen (North Gate), one of five gateways into the old walled city of Taipei, have now been freed from the hulking concrete boa constrictor.
Modern business and boutique hotels now line the main thoroughfares. But some of the old guards, the places that have been here for decades, hold on thanks to the loyalty of their customers, some of whom have been coming since the early days.
“We talk to each other like friends,” Wang says during a break in her hectic 12-hour day. She notes that the restaurant has some patrons who come in two or three times a week, keeping up routines they have followed for years. “Even if they go abroad,” she adds, “they come back and share stories of coming here years ago.”

During noon on a post-Lunar New Year holiday Monday in mid-February, the restaurant's ten or so tables are packed with many such familiar faces, drawn by the authenticity of the Beijing cuisine. Wang, a former nurse at the city's Mackay Memorial Hospital and a mother of four, took over running the place in 2008, and quickly brought her own style to the restaurant's kitchen. One of the eatery staples, beef noodle soup (almost invariably simply called beef noodles in Chinese and English), was the first dish to undergo a few minor – but nevertheless vital – modifications.
Though the handmade noodles remain the same, Wang tweaked things slightly by adding tomato and bits of chopped fried pork to the beef broth. After first testing out the new recipe on family, friends, and restaurant regulars, she entered the dish in a city-wide competition (serious business in a town billing itself as the “world capital of beef noodles”), taking third place in 2009 and second in 2012.

Beef noodles, however, isn't the only specialty to keep local customers coming back and attracting a steady stream of tourists from Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and the West as well. The pork roll with sweet bean sauce is another favorite. Whereas the secret with the beef noodles is in the handmade noodles and broth, it's the sauce that sets this dish apart (a tightly rolled pastry stuffed with pork, locally sourced vegetables, and other ingredients). In most other restaurants serving this food, the sauce is salty, reminiscent of soy sauce. Going to the opposite end of the flavor spectrum is a bold move that pays off, making for a mid-meal treat that almost feels like a dessert.
Such flavor twists are very much part of Beiping Tianyuan's grand dichotomy – remaining faithful to the northern-Chinese style of food preparation while adding new elements along the way that, while innovative, don't take the cuisine too far away from its roots.
The fried leek pie, a staple found throughout Taiwan at night markets, street stands, and elsewhere, has been augmented with pork oil. Vegetarians fear not, however. There are true vegetarian options available on the menu, such as the vegetable steamed dumplings, served up the traditional way in their wooden steam trays. There are also pork-free dishes for Muslim guests, specified on the bilingual menu.

Mr. Deng now spends much of his time in the Pacific Northwest, moving between the homes of his children living in Seattle and Vancouver. But the 90-year-old grandfather will no doubt be pleased to know the little place he started back in the mid-’70s has withstood the test of time by remaining faithful to his vision and that of his partners.
To this day, tourists coming in from Beijing, his old stomping grounds, remark that the dry noodles with minced pork (and other dishes, of course) are just like those they get at home. Those from the area who, like him, came over to Taiwan after the end of the civil war in 1949, and now call Taiwan home, say it takes them back to their younger days.

Beiping Tianyuan is an out-of-the-way place, found down a narrow, nondescript alley where canvas awnings hang over the rear exits of other area eateries, the chefs sitting outdoors enjoying a smoke break during the afternoon downtime. It's in a neighborhood that has seen, and continues to see, great change. But for a city to retain a sense of what it used to be, it needs places like this to hang on and thrive. This is a place which proves that food is culture. Food is history. It's an integral part of a city's makeup, and of the diverse group of people that call it home.

Beiping Tianyuan (北平田園餡餅粥)
Add: No. 1, Lane 5, Chongqing S. Rd., Taipei City (台北市重慶南路一段5巷1號)
Tel: (02) 2314-8032
Website: www.beiping-tianyuan.com (Chinese)


Yu Yue Quan
For another take on local dough-based cuisine, head for Yu Yue Quan, tucked away on a side street opposite the W Taipei hotel, to its north, in the city's modern Xinyi District.
In this restaurant the approach is something more akin to fusion – a combination of traditional noodle dishes with the much beloved shabu shabu, or hotpot cuisine. For the full experience, try a set meal which includes three cold veggies, braised beef with Japanese radish, and your own small gas stove with a bowl of bubbling beef broth. Then there's a bowl of noodles, which your server will ladle the broth over, and a plate of sliced beef. As your broth boils, you take the thin-sliced strips of meat and swish them around in the bowl (creating the “shabu shabu” sound that is the source of this dish name), pulling them out when the meat turns from uncooked reddish hue to a light grayish-brown.
The price is a step up from Beiping Tianyuan, where the most expensive item on the a la carte menu is around NT$200. At Yu Yue Quan, set meals start at around NT$700. The décor is a mix of East and West, with vintage furnishings and black-and white photos and vinyl LPs on the walls, along with framed works of Japanese calligraphy and ornate ceramic teapots.
Yu Yue Quan (遇月全)
Add: No. 44, Aly. 5, Ln. 147, Keelung Rd., Xinyi District, Taipei City (台北市信義區基隆路一段147巷5弄44號)
Tel: (02) 2745-5959


Dian Shui Lou
A restaurant that has grown from a single location specializing in Jiangzhe cuisine to a chain that has expanded throughout northern Taiwan, the interior décor at Dian Shui Lou outlets varies from location to location, in some calling to mind the old-school Chinese restaurants of yesteryear in Taiwan. But the main focus, of course, is on the food, highly lauded by patrons and professional food critics alike, who are drawn by such menu highlights as the Shanghai-style dim sum.
On the dough-based delicacies end of the menu, the juicy xiaolongbao, or steamed stuffed dumplings, are not to be missed. Individual set meals are available starting at NT$600, and sets for four to eight go for NT$1,800 and up.

Dian Shui Lou Sogo Nanjing Branch (點水樓南京店)
Add: No. 61, Sec. 4, Nanjing E. Rd., Songshan District, Taipei City (台北市松山區南京東路四段61號)
Tel: (02) 8912-6689
Website: dianshuilou.com.tw

English and Chinese

Beimen北門
Deng Qing-yu鄧慶瑜
Sandy Wang王靜儀
Shinkong Mitsukoshi Department Store新光三越
xiaolongbao小籠包
Xinyi District信義區
Zhongzheng District中正區

 

Noodles, Buns, and Dumplings

Shin Kong Chao Feng Resort Ranch

Hao Bu Hao Chi?

Taitung by the sea

Sleep, Eat, and Buy Options in Alishan’s North Sector

Mt. Guanyin

A Night at the Market

Alishan North

Green and Sleepy

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Taiwan and Hotpot

Jinyue Indigenous Village

Seven Stars Mountain

DaMorLee Leisure Farm

Quick Trip to Taipei

Up into the High Mountains

Romantic Evenings in Kaohsiung

Railways to Bikeways

Xiang Luo Lei Restaurant

Land Ho! Penghu – Beckoning You

The Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path

The Heart of Hualien

Dageeli Tribe Restaurant

Coastal Hualien

Ximending (West Gate District)

Bunun Hunters Restaurant

Hello Hualien!

The Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area

Tianwei Highway Garden

Prowlin’ in Maolin

Strawberry Town

The Maolin National Scenic Area

Stairways to the Sky

Pedaling Along

Daluan Restaurant

Around the Northern Tip

Hats and Mats

Orange Country

Travel Taiwan, Film Taiwan!

A Place to Relax

Through the Grapevine

The Tatami of Dongshi

Lacquerware

Lion’s Head Mountain and Beipu

Exploring the Valley of the Glowing Sky

Fruit of the Angels

Its Cake Culture

The Amazing Bamboo

Yilan’s Kumquats

Lovely Nanzhuang

The Sea of Flowers in Xinshe Festival

Healthful Eating and Delicious Flavors

The Black King Kong of Yuanchang

From Art Brush to Beauty Brush

A Strange Fruit

The Sound of Drums

Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

The Hot Springs of Beitou

Simakusi (Smangus)

Meinong

Water Frolics

Overnighting on the Northeast Coast

Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art

Mt. Beidawu

The Most Joyous Thing in the World is Music

Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer

FUN WITH CHINESE - Men in the Fields during Rain

NK 101 Tea @ Style

Taitung Backpack Bus Trip

The Life of Pi

Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

Spring Onion Country Yilan's Sanxing Township Offers Ideal Conditions for Cultivating Scallions

Sandy Beaches, Rocky Coastline, Quiet Country A Whirlwind Tour Round Hengchun Peninsula

What Happened at Wushe

Confucius Day

Keeping It in the Family: I Wan Jan Puppet Theater

Taiwan Has a Unique Culture

Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit and the ROC's 100 Years

All the Flowers You Can Dream Of

Music from the Marshland

Pristine Scenes

Fierce Faces

Following the Tide

A Wonderful World Out There

Off to the Beach and the Rocks

Taiwan’s Easy Rider Goes Into the Wild

HAKKA TUNG BLOSSOM FESTIVAL

Taipei Int'l Flora Expo

HIDDEN HOT SPRINGS & LANDFORMS

JOURNEY into the PAST

YOUNG, GIFTED, AND DEAF

Taiwan's Ultra Man Going Beyond Extreme

Rice by Any Other Name

Taiwan is Beautiful!

TAIPEI EYE

Slate Houses and Mud Rivers

From Fir Formosa

Touring Kaohsiung by KMART

TOURING TAIWAN

Taoyuan HSR Station

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Bus Trip to Central Taiwan

Establishing a Beautiful Taiwan

High Mountain Ecology

Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks

Cultural Tourism in Taiwan:What's in It for You?

Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Leaving Stress Behind

Taiwan! "Feel Good" Country

Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side

Aboriginal Tribes & Festivals

The Famous Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Night Markets in Taiwan

Great Arts, Culinary Exhibitions and Events in Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Other Places

Mountains in Taiwan

Water Fun in Taiwan

Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts

"Taiwan's Ghost Festival and Other Religious Events"

Dragon Boat Festival

City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River

National Scenic Area (IV)-Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, Penghu National Scenic Area, Matsu National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (III)-East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, East Coast National Scenic Area, Maolin National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (II)-Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (I)-North Coast & Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area

Offshore Islands- Penghu、Kinmen National Park、Matzu、Green Island(Lyudao)、Orchid Island(Lanyu)

Eastern Taiwan- Taroko National Park、East Rift Valley、Rueisuei & Hongye、Jhihben

Southern Taiwan- Alishan、Tainan、Kaohsiung、Dapeng Bay & Little Liouciou、Kenting National Park

Central Taiwan- Miaoli、Taichung、Changhua、Nantou、Yushan National Park

Northern Taiwan -Taipei City、Yangmingshan & Beitou、Danshuei、Wulai、Jioufen & Jinguashih、Yilan、Taoyuan & Hsinchu