Monday, October 16, 2017

永康牛肉麵 (Yong Kang Beef Noodle in Taipei)

永康牛肉麵

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I had about 10 days in Taipei, and the second beef noodle spot I tried was the famous Yong Kang. This place is ranked #1 by most people and articles, and their line reflects this. Like all beef noodle spots, though, the line moves quickly.

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I'd read that they choose to be left out of any annual beef noodle ranking competitions, so as to let the underdogs have a chance. How kind.

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Yong Kang was founded in 1963, by Mr. Cheung, who followed the retreat of Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuo Min Tang army to Taiwan in the 40s. This area was a sort of refugee camp back in the day, and his spicy beef noodle was a welcome comfort food for the masses.

The menu has all of your favorites. I had to try both the light and dark soup. First up, the hongshao (紅燒).

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To be honest, I wouldn't come here again. I found the noodles to be overly mushy, the beef a bit tough, and the soup on the salty side.

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The lighter salt bowl wasn't much better, though I prefer it to the darker bowl. Maybe I've just been in Japan too long and have lost my appreciation for spicy.

Looking back on my experience, I realize that I have become very critical of noodles, and this has marred my experiences in both Taiwan and mainland China. I could forgive it on the mainland, where a bowl of soup noodles was about a dollar. Here in Taiwan, the food isn't as cheap as I thought it would be. A small bowl here runs 220 Taiwan dollars, about $7 US. 

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Here's the cool thing about the food in Taipei. There is so much of it, that a bad meal is quickly forgotten. Many of the popular beef noodle restaurants have a choice of large (大) or small (小). Go 小 and you can go somewhere else.

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Shaved ice, for instance.

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The mango and the five-treasures from 龍都冰果専業家 were pretty good, but my favorite was the simple almond milk shaved ice from Yu's ALMOND DESSERT.

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For those who value my opinion, here is my ranking of beef noodle shops I visited, with only the top three being ones I would actually recommend:
  1. 桃源街牛肉麵 (Taoyuan Street Authentic Shandong Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  2. 林東芳牛肉麵 (Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  3. 故宮晶華 (Silks Palace Noodle Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  4. 永康牛肉麵 (Yong Kang Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  5. 牛爸爸 (Niu Baba Beef Noodle in Taipei)
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金山南路二段31巷17號, Taipei
Noodle House · Dà'ān Qū

Open 11:00-9:00pm

Thursday, October 12, 2017

凪 (Nagi in Taipei)

豚骨拉麵 Nagi 凪 大直店

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Nagi is a favorite of mine. They recently celebrated their 10th year, and though I wasn't there at the beginning, I was very close. I used to visit the original shop in Shibuya back in 2008 almost every Wednesday, have a bowl of their tonkotsu ramen, and chat with Natsu, the staff who was always there. It was a casual spot, without a a huge crowd, but it was a good, solid bowl of ramen, and it was one of the shops that started Ramen Adventures.

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Fast forward a few years, and they have shops all over Japan and Asia. A real success story.

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When I found that they had a few shops in Taipei, I decided to check it out on a recent trip. As always, a solid bowl of creamy tonkotsu ramen. Please check out my YouTube video for a bit more about their regular ramen.

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To my delight, they had a limited bowl on offer; a collaboration between Nagi and Might Quinn's BBQ from NYC. I'm interested!

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Smokehouse brisket with some pickle condiments.

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And a healthy layer of smoked brisket oil on top. This one was fantastic.

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I crushed not only the regular both, called the 豚王 or Original King, and a bowl of their limited BBQ collab, called the Mighty King, but a bowl of their soupless Mighty King. All were stellar.

I hear that they have this bowl quite often, though it is part of their rotating limited menu.

Here's hoping that Nagi inspired more people to have their own Ramen Adventures.

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Official site here.

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10491, Taiwan, Taipei City, Zhongshan District, Lequn 3rd Road, 301號

Open 11:30am-9:30pm
Friday and Saturday 11:30am-10:00pm

Monday, October 9, 2017

林東芳牛肉麵 (Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodle in Taipei)

林東芳牛肉麵

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I spent a week in Taipei, and as such, tried a few of their noodle spots. Sure, there is ramen in Taiwan, but not much. The country instead serves up beef noodle. It's a simple dish; noodles in a clear beef soup with a bit of spice and cuts of stewed beef.

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Lin Dong Fang was a great choice to start a Beef Noodle Adventure™.

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Giant pots of broth and beef sit street-side, failing any sort of regulation should an American health inspector come. This is the norm across Asian, and you simply can't have such amazing food with stringent sanitation.

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Every famous beef noodle place I went to had a line, but the lines move fast, even faster than ramen lines.

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And almost every shop has an ordering slip like this. My Chinese isn't so great, but the characters are easy to decipher with some Japanese ability; Japanese kanji characters are rooted in the Chinese after all. 牛 is beef. 肉 is meat. Easy as that.

I should note that many places have things like 肚 or 筋, belly and tendon respectively.

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Light, spicy soup. The shop adds some secret ingredients to their broth, including some traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. Beef noodle broth is either dark and spicy or light and clear. Lin Dong Fang is somewhere in the middle.

The noodles, like most of what I've had in China, are decent but nothing special.

What I came to value in beef noodle is a sort of balance between the beef and soup. The chunks of beef should be tender and flavorful, while the soup is more refreshing. Ling Dong Fang set the bar high!

If you like it spicier, there is an extremely spicy condiment on the table that looks like hardened miso. People called it spicy butter (actually beef drippings with chili), and you should use it with caution.

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For those who value my opinion, here is my ranking of beef noodle shops I visited, with only the top three being ones I would actually recommend:

  1. 桃源街牛肉麵 (Taoyuan Street Authentic Shandong Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  2. 林東芳牛肉麵 (Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  3. 故宮晶華 (Silks Palace Noodle Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  4. 永康牛肉麵 (Yong Kang Beef Noodle in Taipei)
  5. 牛爸爸 (Niu Baba Beef Noodle in Taipei)


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八德路二段274號, Taipei
Noodle House · Zhōngshān Qū

Open 11:00-4:00am
Closed Sundays

Thursday, October 5, 2017

一点張 (Itenbari in Akasaka)

赤坂一点張

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Someone recommended this miso spot in Akasaka to me. Foreigners often confuse Akasaka with Asakusa. The later is a famous part of town that no first-visit to Japan should be without. Temples, history, and shopping streets full of Edo-era treasures. The former is a business district. Offices, crowds of men in black suits, and one of Japan's few branches of Hooters. Suffice to say, most people don't have much need to visit Akasaka.

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This miso ramen stands out from other shops by blending pork soup with a gyokai soup made from dried fish. Uniqueness is a virtue.

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They also have a more straight miso and a spicy miso. A simple menu for the lunch crowds.

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A blend of Hokkaido and Tokyo?

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Sure, you could say that.

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I should note that they are open until 3:40 in the morning. An odd hour, but late enough that if you were in nearby Roppongi and had a miso craving you could head this way.

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Or maybe Akasaka ends up being an amazing neighborhood, and the bar above Itenbari is worth staying out for. I wonder how late Hooters is open?

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東京都港区赤坂3-7-9
Tokyo, Minato-ku, Akasaka 3-7-9
Closest station: Akasaka

Open 11:00-3:40am
Closed Sundays

Monday, October 2, 2017

八咫烏 (Yatagarasu in Kudanshita)

八咫烏

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Yatagarasu opened in late 2016, and it was immediately on my radar. Sure, the bowl's beauty was a draw, and the Instagrammers I follow were going wild, but I was interested in something else.

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咫 - Yata

This Chinese character I had never seen. It means something about the distance between your outstretched fingers. But to me it looks like "RA". You can't spell ramen without 咫!

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My odd obsession with funny looking kanji aside, this is one of Tokyo's hot new shops.

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And it lives up to the hype.

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Go for the black or the white, both are great.

The black is made with a bold soy sauce blend. You can judge this one based on looks, it is a really stellar bowl. Low temperature pork (all the rage these days) is just bold enough to stand out.

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The white, on the other hand, is a bit lighter. Made with an aromatic Japanese dashi. I would say go with the black on your first time, though, but that is what Ramen Adventures is partial to.

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By the way, the name of the shop, Yatagarasu (八咫烏), refers to a mythical raven that helped an emperor conquer the east.

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東京都千代田区九段北1-9-2
Tokyo, Chioda-ku, Kudanshita 1-9-2
Closest station: Kudanshita

Open 11:00-22:00
Saturdays 11:00-15:00
Closed Sundays

Thursday, September 28, 2017

坂本01 (Sakamoto 01 in Oji)

坂本01

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Some of Japan's best ramen shops are, alas, inconvenient as hell to get to. Newly opened Sakamoto 01 is just on the cusp; a bit far, but not too far.

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Head north, then walk south.

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These roads are the bloodlines of Tokyo. Packed with traffic going in and out, venturing to neighborhoods with not much more than hastily built five-story cement domiciles.

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And the occasional amazing ramen shop. At only 500 yen, this one is an absolute steal. If you think price dictates quality, you are about to be proven wrong.

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I splurged on the 900 yen bowl, which includes more than enough hand made wontons.

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Fantastic bowl that was almost too big for me to eat (I had eaten another bowl previously). If you can see it, there is a light sprinkle of freshly ground sansho peppercorn on top. It gives the bowl of classic chukasoba a bit of bite, and adds a wonderful aroma.

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That beautiful oil on top. Sakamoto-san, the shop's master, also adds a bit of beef fat into the mix.

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Probably a spot that will be visited mostly by locals and ramen nerds, but maybe worth it if you are taking a visit to the mostly un-visited north of Tokyo.

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東京都北区王子3-8-6
Tokyo, Kita-ku, Oji 3-8-6
Closest station: Ojikamiya

Open 11:00-14:30, 17:00-21:00