BEEF NOODLE SOUP. Three illustrious words that inspire hunger and drooling amongst the Chu clan – and a dish that triggers one of my earliest childhood memories.
Every weekend when I was around four or five years old, my family would go for breakfast at the same hole in the wall restaurant in Flushing, where I would eat my stewed beef brisket and pickled mustard greens in a dark beefy broth on a bed of thick chewy noodles. On one memorable occasion, our regular ponytail braid wearing waitress came over, took our order and shortly after, the bowl of beef noodle arrived. That’s when all hell broke loose.
The restaurant had changed the noodles. Instead of the thick noodles I had become accustomed to, they had been replaced with a stringier spaghetti sized pasta. I immediately burst into tears. And not the silent, “feel bad for me because I’m a crying child” tears, I mean the ugly Kim Kardashian cry face, complete with wailing to the point where I knocked the wind out of myself and was screaming silence. True to the ancient Chinese philosophy of “Be a man!” my dad had banned crying to get my way*, so I remember thinking in my four year old logic, ‘just this one time, maybe if I cried hard enough, they would get me what I wanted’. The waitress walked me into the kitchen and gave me a tour to prove the words I couldn’t believe. Like Joan Cusack in the Addams Family, all I wanted was my Chinese child version of the Malibu Barbie Dreamhouse – or I would burn the place down trying to get them again. Just kidding.
But I never did find the same noodles again.
On the other hand, according to every Taiwanese person ever, Taiwan is supposed to have the best beef noodle soup in the world, so on our second morning in Taipei I insisted to Handsome that we go on a mission to find some of that shiz. It was a crucial relationship test because I knew that if he didn’t like it, our relationship would be doomed as my family would never fully accept my white boy into the family.
Googling “best beef noodle soup in Taipei,” turned up dozens of results. After cross comparing several food sites, blogs and apps, I finally picked one in the Ching Chong Ling Long Ting Tong neighborhood. (My Chinese pronunciation might be a little off)
Following the map down a side street, arriving fifteen minutes before the place opened, we came to a dead block with nothing that looked like it was going to open anytime soon. We circled the block a few times, and still couldn’t find the noodle shop. I could feel my traumatic childhood coming back to haunt me.
Tragically disappointed and defeated, I led Handsome into McDonalds … and connected to their wifi to check Foursquare. It recommended a place almost a mile away, so I lied to him, told him it was down the street, and started dragging him towards a place that was listed as “one of the top places for beef noodle soup in Taipei.” Twenty minutes later we arrived at a restaurant packed with people hunched over their bowls of noodles slurping away.
Though we didn’t get to check out any other beef noodle soup places in Taipei, I’m confident in saying it was one of the best beef noodle soups I’ve ever had (other than the one my cousin makes). Plus Novio, my resident travel expert friend and possessor of friends everywhere, later told me his friend from Taiwan also recommended that place as one of his top choices. I asked Handsome what he thought of it, and he said it was okay, but he still preferred Pho. Gentlemen out there – I may be single soon.
After lunch we headed to the Fine Arts Museum, which ended up being closed but located in a pleasant little park, so we walked around for a bit getting a feel for the area.
Wandering and half heartedly checking a map, we came to a Confucian Temple which consisted of several old fashioned buildings with well maintained grounds and a small museum. Inside the museum we played around the with traditional instrument panel for a bit, which further confirmed my suspicions that Chinese music sounds like the mass murder of cats.
Down the road the intricately designed roof of the Baoan Temple drew us in its direction. The details of the design were absolutely gorgeous and as soon as we approached the entrance the overwhelming scent of those fuscia and gold sticks of incense incited images of going to the cemetery in Jersey every Halloween with my family.
Trying to squeeze in as much as possible before we had to leave the next day, the rest of our day’s agenda consisted of rushing back to the hotel to change, and then checking out the view from the W hotel as an alternative to going to Taipei 101. Because what’s the point of checking out a view at sunset if you can’t drink overpriced martinis while doing it.
Knowing we had to meet ETCF for dinner, Handsome and I decided to take a quick hop over to the famous Shilin Night market where it was rumored I could find some dick shaped ice cream. Because, Asia. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to explore since the market is huge, but we did get to pick up some sunglasses and bacon wrapped scallions. Penis shaped ice cream: I’ll be back for you next time.
Rushing back into the city center, we met up with ETCF for dinner at a restaurant his girlfriend had recommended. The restaurant consisted of BBQ and sushi options up front and a huge open room behind it with people gathered around cheap looking tables and small stools. The beer was semi-serve yourself, and there was an anxious looking girl promoting the local beer that we had to keep dodging every time we got up to get another round.
While thus far I had trusted ETCF’s choices in food, I started second guessing my trust when this showed up on the table.
In case you’re curious what that monstrosity is, the answer is breaded fried shrimp with a light frosting and sprinkles. Like the rainbow sprinkles that you dip your soft serve ice cream into. As in, this Chinese dish brought to you by Mister Softee. Seriously, ETCF, WTF?! He insisted that it really wasn’t that bad, and despite my aversion to trusting white people about Asian food I gave it a go. I’ll be shamefully honest – it really wasn’t that bad.
The next morning our original plan was to sleep in, but I was feeling a bit guilty about not seeing a whole lot of the city other than its food. So bright and early we dragged our asses to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial, which was one of the most impressive structures we saw in the city.
And while we had missed the Fine Arts Museum the day before, there was classic art and calligraphy inside the building and also a student art exhibit which was honestly really impressive.
We also got to see the guard change inside the hall which was pretty cool. Did not know they take their guards so seriously!
Satisfied that we had seen some things of note in the city, we headed to the airport ready for the next leg of our trip in Myanmar!
*ask my parents to see the video of me at 9 months in a car seat screaming on the kitchen table with my mom saying they should pick me up and my dad saying something to the effect of “be a man.”