A Foreigner in Noodle Paradise


Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

Taipei is the beef noodle Promised Land.

After crossing the Taiwan Strait from China, humble beef noodles found fertile ground here, and they flourished. Sallow soups evolved into deep, steaming bowls of meaty broth strewn with chewy wheat noodles. Taiwan's beef noodles are served in two shades--a dark, soy-infused stock (hong shao) or in a light, faintly beefy consommé (qing dun). And these soups aren't made for snacking; like Japanese ramen, niu rou mian eats like a meal.

Taipei's cloistered alleyways all seem to hide someone dunking a mesh basket into a milky pool of starched water. They cook the pasta this way before ladling broth and a few slabs of jello-tender beef brisket (and sometimes tendon) on top. Each year, Taipei City even hosts its own Beef Noodle Festival. "We will turn Taipei into the world capital of beef noodles," Taipei's former mayor Ma Ying-jieu proudly proclaimed, in this beef noodle interview.

Seeing a Persian dunk noodles in Taipei must be kind of like seeing a Taiwanese tend kebabs in Tehran. It's funny.

Dense thickets of street signs, which create a kaleidoscopic nighttime shine, advertise the national dish. And though they're often referred to as Sichuan beef noodles, I've never seen this breed of beef noodle eaten there. Restaurateurs might want their noodles to evoke a spirit of Mainland authenticity, though it's pretty clear these are a Taiwanese creation.

But Davod Bagherzedh doesn't make that leap. His sign--another narrow, backlit beacon splattered with calligraphic characters--says Laowai Yi Pin Niu Rou Mian. Literally, "The Foreigner's Bowl of Beef Noodles." It must stop Taiwanese in their tracks.


Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

Seeing a Persian dunk noodles in Taipei must be kind of like seeing a Taiwanese tend kebabs in Tehran. It's funny. So is Bagherzedh (bog-her-zed), who sat and joked with me as I slurped my way through a bowl. His noodles are lighter and spicier than most Taipei versions, and are reminiscent of the beef noodles from Lanzhou. In that western Chinese city, Hui Chinese are famed for noodles that they conjure like an edible magic act and serve in a light, salty beef stock.

"At first, I opened up a restaurant called Persian Gulf," Bagherzedh says, "but I had many problems--sourcing problems, staff problems, and business problems. I loved beef noodles, so I decided to change my concept. But then, I was serving beef noodles inside an Iranian restaurant in an alleyway in Taipei, and, you know, it felt pretty ridiculous."

So he moved his shop, honed his recipes, and now attracts a steady stream of locals, who come to eat the Laowai's noodles in a comfortable Chinese setting.

"If I cooked them the traditional way, I could never compete with Taipei's other stands, but if I make it with all Persian spices, I'd also have no business. So I import a spice from Iran called bahorat, a 12-spice mixture, and I add that to a blend of Chinese ingredients. It's different, and people seem to love it."

The greatest impasse Bagherzedh faces is teaching his staff how to reproduce his recipe. "Everyone wants to cook their own style of beef noodle--not my style of beef noodle--so I need to always be in the kitchen tasting, tasting, tasting."

"But it's Ramadan, so I try not to taste much," he says, smiling and looking up towards the ceiling. "Please, forgive me God!"

Laowai Yi Pin Niu Rou Mian is located in Taipei City, on Jie Lin Lu, Number 403. Call 025853303 for directions. And for a Taiwanese beef noodle recipe, click here.

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Jarrett Wrisley hails from Allentown, Pennsylvania. For the past seven years, he's been working as a writer in Asia, though he still dreams of greasy cheese steaks. More

Jarrett Wrisley hails from Allentown, Pennsylvania. For the past seven years, he's been working as a writer in Asia, though he still dreams of (and occasionally returns for) greasy cheese steaks. Jarrett's first trip to Asia came as a college student, when he traveled to Beijing to study Mandarin Chinese. He returned to China after graduation, and began writing about Chinese food in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. After a six-month stint in Chengdu, he moved on to Shanghai, where he worked as a food critic and magazine editor for four years before striking out on his own. After six years in China, he recently moved to Bangkok, where yellow-clad protesters immediately shut down the airport where he had just landed. Luckily for him, he couldn't leave—and now intends to stay. Jarrett is presently working on a series of modern Chinese cookbooks with Hong Kong chef Jereme Leung and writing features that focus on food and culture in Asia. He'll be bouncing around the region as much as possible and writing about things he encounters along the way. His blog trains an eye on food but addresses other cultural phenomena, tidbits of travel, and the oddball politics of East Asia.

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