Originally a northern Chinese meal, beef noodle soup (牛肉麵) is composed of beef stew, vegetables and noodles. It exists in various forms throughout East and Southeast Asia. The most common Vietnamese version is called Phở.
In the West, this food may be served in a small portion as a soup. In China, a large bowl of it is often taken as a whole meal with or without any side dish.
In Chinese, "牛肉麵" literally means "cattle-meat-noodles". If one orders "牛肉湯麵" or "cattle-meat-soup-noodles" in a restaurant in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China, one might be given a very inexpensive bowl of beef-flavored noodles with only the soup and noodles but no beef. Since beef has become much more affordable these days, most restaurants no longer provide these beef-flavored noodles. If one order "牛肉湯" or "cattle-meat-soup", one could be given a more expensive bowl of soup with lots of beef in it but without noodles.
The following is a rough sketch for making beef noodle soup. Consult recipe books for more detailed directions. The best choices for stew meat include short ribs, shank, and ox-tails because these are the parts of the meat that have tendons. While the short ribs, shank, and ox-tails already contain bones, consider adding additional bones to create excellent beef stock .
- Place the stew meat and bones into a pot of boiling water for one minute. Then remove the meat and bones from the pot.
- Empty the pot of water. Refill the pot with water and boil again.
- Once the pot boils again, add spices such as bay leaves, star anise, and ginger. Also add the desired amount of salt or soy sauce into the stew. One could also consider adding cooking wine, sugar, or hot sauce.
- Place the stew meat and bones back into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer for two to three hours or until the meat is thoroughly cooked.
- Remove the meat and bones from the stew. Separate any meat that is attached to the bones. Cut the meat into semi bite-sized cubes. Place the meat back into the stew.
- In another pot, cook the noodles and leafy vegetables. Drain the noodles and the vegetables.
- Serve the noodles and vegetables with the stew. One may add freshly chopped green onions or semi-pickled mustard greens (酸菜, the Chinese equivalent to sauerkraut).
When the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War, refugees from mainland China including Chinese Muslims (回族) introduced the beef noodle soup to the Taiwanese. Despite the traditional Taiwanese aversion to eating beef, the dish enjoys extreme popularity in Taiwan, including the instant noodles, food pouch, and microwave meal versions.
The Chinese Muslim version uses halal (清真) meat and contains no spices or soy sauce. Only salt and green onions are used to add flavoring to the soup. The Chinese name for the Muslim version of beef noodle soup is clear-broth stewed beef noodle soup (清燉牛肉麵).
When soy sauce is added, the soup is called red roasted or braised beef noodle soup (紅燒牛肉麵). In this version, the stew meat is sometimes stir fried with hot sauce before being simmered as soup.
Beware of restaurants that cheat in their preparation of the soup. Such restaurants use canned beef stock and thinly sliced beef chuck (roast beef) meat.