TAIPEI, Feb 29 — When you’re sick, there’s nothing quite like chicken soup to nourish and heal you.

In Taiwan, they do things differently. Chicken soup is fine and all but it’s beef soup that they want. Specifically, beef noodle soup or niúròu miàn.

Niúròu miàn translates literally as “beef noodles” since rarely do you see the dry sauce version; it’s all about the the soup if ask a true blue Taiwanese.

And so we do. (Always ask a local where to eat wherever you go.)


Our Taipei friends recommend Lin Dong Fang in the city’s bustling Zhongshan District. Opened since 1976, this lǎo zìhao (“old brand” in Mandarin) was formerly a tiny hole-in-the-wall further along the same road.

There is a line when we arrive at its current shop. Our Taiwanese friends have assured us this is okay; if the food is worth it, there is always a queue. In Taipei, do as the locals do. We join the line.

Turns out everyone is just a little early. Once the shop opens a few minutes later, we are all seated swiftly by the servers.


Upstairs the space opens up. Rows of wooden tables glistening with a finishing glaze, the easier to wipe down for the next group of customers.

The signature 'là niú yóu' or “spicy beef butter” (left); 'huā gān' or wheat gluten (right)
The signature 'là niú yóu' or “spicy beef butter” (left); 'huā gān' or wheat gluten (right)

On our way up the stairs, we can’t help but be drawn by the delectable aromas wafting from the kitchen.

Peering inside, we could just make out large pots rumbling away with all manner of beefy goodness — meat, bones, tendons and more.

The hours-long braise confers much of the savoury sweetness to the meat, and not one drop is wasted as the beefy braising liquid is then strained to be used as a base for Lin Dong Fang’s inimitable beef broth.

It’s supposed to be unmistakable but more on that later.

Upstairs the walls are nearly bare but for a concrete wash and frames of Chinese calligraphy. The menu is equally sparse; we settle for the must-order items: the bàn jīn bàn ròu niúròu miàn (half tendon, half beef noodles) and the huā gān (wheat gluten).

We hear the common refrain of “Nǎ yǒu?” bandied about frequently at neighbouring tables.

It’s the Taiwanese take on our Manglish “Where got?” You can close your eyes and still know where you are; it’s so easy and comforting.

Despite its bright red colour, this chilli sauce is more salty than spicy.
Despite its bright red colour, this chilli sauce is more salty than spicy.

This means while the service can be stiff and mechanical at this lǎo diàn (“old shop”), the way it is with some long-time establishments, it is unfailingly polite and never brusque.

We observe ceramic tubs on every table, unfortunately resembling incense pots with the metal spoons rammed straight into it like joss sticks. Rather inauspicious.

Turns out these pots contain pure manna — Lin Dong Fang’s signature là niú yóu, which translates loosely as “spicy beef butter.”

The homemade paste is made from a mix of dried chillies and beef fat. We can’t wait to add it to our beef noodles.

Then our order of huā gān arrives. The wheat gluten is braised in beef stock and thus has absorbed all of its meaty flavours.

This is what appetisers ought to do — whet your appetite without distracting from the star attraction.

There are other sides — dried tofu, mustard greens, pickled cucumbers — but these felt unnecessary, almost like gilding the lily. Too much before the main act would ruin it, we decide.

Soon thereafter, piping hot bowls of niúròu miàn land on our table. We begin by carefully ladling up the precious soup, a heady combination of the aforementioned dark braising liquid and beef broth made from beef bones, beef fat and medicinal herbs that have been simmered for over 20 hours.

While most Taiwanese beef noodles offer a soup that is either hóngshāo (spicy, red broth) or qīng (clear broth), Lin Dong Fang’s version straddles the middle ground.

The 'bàn jīn bàn ròu niúròu miàn' (half tendon, half beef noodles)
The 'bàn jīn bàn ròu niúròu miàn' (half tendon, half beef noodles)

Though dark in colour, the soup turns out to be light-bodied despite its complex, umami-rich flavour. It’s something you can sip easily, pleasurably so.

The noodles are thick, round and very “QQ”, the Taiwanese term for a texture that’s al dente, chewy and bouncy.

Tender without being soggy, every strand is a vehicle for the rich broth without being overwhelmed by it.

Of course, the highlight of the bowl for many would be the meat. What we get are large discs of beef flank, marbled with creamy fat.

Since we opted for the half beef, half tendon option, we also get a generous amount of melt-in-your-mouth tendons, gelatinous and oh so soft.

While you can get all meat or all tendon or even beef tripe, the bàn jīn bàn ròu is the way to go, we reckon. Alternating between bites of flank and tendon, we get the best of both beefy worlds.

Add a few spoonfuls of the unctuous là niú yóu paste into your broth to add a fiery, smoky accent. It’s addictive. (For those who need to amp up the salt quotient, the savoury red chilli sauce is also available.)

When we first ordered, we were slightly dismayed at the bare bones menu. Not many choices, we thought. Now, after slurping down the last of our noodles and the hearty, beefy broth, we realise the truth.

The décor is minimalist with a few frames of Chinese calligraphy.
The décor is minimalist with a few frames of Chinese calligraphy.

A dish that is complete needs little other accompaniments. It doesn’t have to be perfect (what dish is, truly?) but it is clear about its identity and what it wants to achieve.

This bowl of Taiwanese goodness — light, tender, flavourful, complex — is about filling our bellies, delighting our palates and igniting a lifetime of nostalgic cravings. That is, until we can return again for another bowl.

Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles 林東芳牛肉麵

No. 322, Section 2, Bade Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan

Open Mon–Sat 11am-3am, Sun closed

Tel: +886 2 2752 2556