Beef noodle soup might not be the most glamorous dish you could order at a restaurant, but a serving of the comfort food can certainly leave you feeling satiated. Is it worth a whopping $300, though? Because that’s what a bowl of the ‘world’s best noodle soup’ costs at this popular Taiwanese restaurant.
In case you’re wondering, the soup doesn’t contain bizarre ingredients like diamonds or dirt, and it isn’t infused with healthy stuff like collagen or anthocyanin. It’s a simple beef bowl recipe, albeit one that Chef Wang Cong-yuan has spent the past 26 years researching and perfecting. The special beef noodle soup is currently served at his small 40-seat restaurant, Niu Ba Ba (Daddy Cow), in Taiwan.
“From the age of forty, I have focused on making a good bowl of beef noodles,” Wang said. “It’s quality over quantity. My ultimate goal is to make the world’s best beef noodle soup.”
Wang made the decision to price the dish so outrageously four years ago, after consulting with his VIP clientele, including three-star Michelin chefs and politicians from across the world. He asked all of them the same question – ‘how much would they be willing to pay for a bowl of his best beef noodles?’ And most of them answered in the range of 10,000 New Taiwan Dollars (US$310). The figure stuck, and Wang soon had it printed out on the Niu Ba Ba menu.
Despite the controversy regarding the cost of his finest soup, Wang believes that it commands the price it deserves, for six different reasons – quality of beef, custom cuts, freezing technique, soup blending technique, noodle quality, and minimal seasoning.
Wang starts off with the world’s finest beef, imported from four different countries – Japan, Australia, the U.S., and Brazil. He makes sure that the meat is cut against the grain in specific shapes that are best suited to how the meat and tendons meet. The Japanese beef, for instance, is frozen slightly to ensure cleaner cuts. But the Australian beef is first cooked and then slowly scooped out from the side of the bone.
He has also developed a special technique where he slow-braises the meat for three days, and freezes individual pieces so they can rest in between. “No matter how long you boil the meat, it’ll turn the texture to mush before the flavors really marinate and develop,” he explained. So instead of extended cooking, he makes use of the rest period to actually infuse the beef with flavor. Each cut of meat takes one week to prepare before it is ready to be served.
To mak his soup, Wang uses five to six different stocks that are distilled from different parts of the beef – the tendons, tenderloin, and bone. He then blends the final soup in the same way that a perfumer might craft a scent. He’s looking for the perfect balance of ‘beefy’ but not ‘gamey’, with a signature ‘velvety’ broth that is not greasy. Wang offers the soup with a choice of 20 varieties of noodles, which will be cooked to the customer’s liking. For seasoning, he doesn’t stray beyond basic ingredients like soy sauce, rock sugar, and some five spice.
“The idea is to keep things as natural as possible and let the flavor of the ingredients shine,” he explained. “I’ve had customers take my soup base to labs to ensure that it doesn’t have any carcinogenic ingredients in it.” Wang has passed on his culinary knowledge of the beef soup to his son, who hopes to take it new levels of awesomeness.
For those who cannot afford the dish, Wang also has a less expensive offering – the NT$200 (US$6) ‘ordinary beef noodles’. But the expensive bowl is ordered at least once every day, thus justifying its high cost, at least in Wang’s book.