I AM a big fan of beef noodle soup (niu rou mian – 牛肉湯) having got addicted to it back in Taipei a few years ago. It’s one of those dishes that I have cravings for from time to time but I never seem to come across the proper version in Australia to feed my addiction. So, I was fascinated to see a large picture of Taiwan’s quintessential dish looming at me on a window from a small cafe named Obun Chef as I was strolling along King William Street – Adelaide’s main drag.
The cafe is nothing special – it’s another place selling coffee to city workers and if it wasn’t for that big picture of soup on the window I would have just walked past it. Obun Chef is small but with enough seating for about 16 people on two stainless steel tables and two benches with bright laminated red table tops scattered around the space. To one side is an open-air kitchen with two cooks busily preparing for the day (but there is no real indication on what is on offer apart from coffee, tea, bubble tea and obun cakes). It was in the kitchen that my Taiwanese ‘auntie’ was busy tasting, skimming and adjusting two huge stock pots of broth – one obviously her beef noodle soup base and the other a clear stock – possibly chicken (a little used in the beef noodle soup that was to come). Each chef has their own variation of beef noodle soup with the stock being a carefully guarded secret. With all the constant love, attention and dedication I saw I was hoping that I wasn’t going to be disappointed.
My auntie delivered the soup ($8.50) herself – it came out hot and steaming and wafting of that marvelous deep brown beef broth combining star anise, garlic and seasoned chunks of beef shank. It was full of flaky cubed beef shank and chopped bok choy. Below were the al-dente and thick Shanghai wheat noodles. Slivers of sliced garlic and chopped spring onions floated in the thick and flavorsome perfumed broth. It was lacking the usual topping of suan cai (pickled Chinese mustard greens) but hey, everyone makes it their own way.
The soup was hearty, wholesome and filling with the beef shank melting in the mouth and the rich soup packing a combination of beef, ginger, garlic and star anise flavours. The noodles chewy and slithery. It was the best beef noodle soup I have had outside of Taiwan and brought back wonderful memories of slurping down noodles in a Taipei night food market.
Thank you auntie, you didn’t disappoint me.
Update August 2011: Auntie still makes her wonderful niu rou mian and it is popular as ever. The place was backed by 12.30 and everyone was ordering the beef noodle soup – Taiwanese and Chinese students as well as some office workers.
The verdict: It’s a big call but the best beef noodle soup outside of Taiwan (and auntie would give those in Taiwan a run a for their noodle).
What: Obun Chef, 118 King William Street (cnr Pirie Street), Adelaide, South Australia. Phone (08) 8211-9688.
Ate there: 5 July 2010 and 8 August 2011.