Tomorrow my husband and I will be celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. (I was a child bride. Ha! -- NOT.) We were discussing what we should do, where we could go out, what we had eaten on past anniversaries. We didn’t make any concrete plans but I started thinking about the meals we shared when we first started dating in 1989. Yes, we’re an old couple.
One of our favorite places was the Mandarin Deli in Chinatown, Los Angeles. It was a hole in the wall that my sisters introduced me to when they were attending USC down the way. I loved the Mandarin Deli’s giant pot stickers that burned my mouth with their hot juices (they’re mentioned in Asian Dumplings).
An order of dumplings was always paired with hot bowls of beef noodle soup (牛肉麵, niu rou mian). Its inky spicy broth, plump wheat noodles, and chunks of red-cooked beef were perfect with the dumplings. It was good in the cooler months as well as the hotter months. I ate it year round.Since then, I’ve made various versions of the soup from recipes found in Irene Kuo’s classic, The Key to Chinese Cooking, and Fuschia Dunlop’s enlightening work on Sichuan cuisine, Land of Plenty. I’ve also ordered plenty of beef noodle soup from Taiwanese joints, such as A&J Restaurant, which has outposts in Southern and Northern California.
Overall, I like the Taiwanese version of niu rou mian (literally beef meat noodles) better than other versions of the Chinese soup. The Taiwanese take usually has more complexity in the broth but I didn't know why until this past weekend.