Photo by Ron Dollete
Through an unexpectedly rich bowl of beef noodles, author Li Ang engages and disentangles the complex historical, cultural, and ideological weave of Taiwanese identity. Li Ang’s ability to bring such disparate elements into a single story speaks to both her writing as well as culinary prowess. In 2007, “Beef Noodles” was made into a theatrical production performed by le Théâtre de l’Opprimé in Paris, France.
He was arrested as a political dissident and sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison. One day during his twenty-three years of imprisonment, he developed a craving for beef noodles.
That was a time when beef noodles were actually available in prison. Not free, of course, but neither were they so expensive they were beyond the means of the average prisoner. Basically, anyone with a little money who was willing to spend it could enjoy a bowl.
Despite the fact that he was a political prisoner, his family was able to supply him with money, which meant he could afford a bowl of beef noodles whenever the craving hit, though he knew he mustn’t overdo it.
He ordered them by filling out a form at five in the afternoon, as stipulated by prison rules. They were delivered at nine o’clock. While he was enjoying his late-night snack, he noticed that the man across the way, also a political prisoner, was staring hungrily until he finished the last drop of soup.
It occurred to him that he ought to treat this prison-mate to a bowl, since the man had never had a visitor and, of course, had no money to buy his own.
He made up his mind to do just that.
The next day he failed to place an order, for no particular reason (he tended to gloss over why, but if he had to explain himself, he’d say he was on the toilet at the time). One day shouldn’t make a difference, he assumed, since time was one thing they had plenty of. He’d place an order the next afternoon, and it would reach his prison-mate that night.
Shortly after daybreak the next morning, before he had a chance to order the noodles, his prison-mate was taken out and shot.
After the passage of many years, even after he’d become an influential politician, crowned with glory and honors, he still could not forget the bowl of noodles he’d failed to order.
The dish usually comes in the form of noodle soup, and is so named because beef is the main ingredient.
After chunks of beef are slow cooked with a packet of spices, the meat and soup are poured into a large bowl, to which are added boiled noodles and some sprigs of greens. A sprinkle of thinly sliced green onions tops off a bowl of steamy hot, aromatic beef noodles.
A layer of grease floats atop the rich brown soup. Steam sometimes escapes from the oily surface to expose white, tender noodles bobbing amid rust-red chunks of innocent-looking meat. The heat brings out the gamy smell of the beef, but, with the amelioration of spices, only an aromatic meaty fragrance remains.
It is a heavy fragrance.
It has an authentic, delicious flavor.
Many years later, when the sinister shadow of White Terror was a distant memory, or even further back, when mass arrests and torture were common—after all, the White Terror era lasted nearly half a century—people (including his enemies, to be sure) had expressed their reservations, publicly and in private: “Political dissidents could buy beef noodles in prison? Obviously, being in prison wasn’t as bad as they said.”
He put up a mild defense: “But that was only during temporary detention at the Garrison Command’s Military Court, and they weren’t free.”
People usually stopped at that point, since he had referred to the notorious place where prisoners awaited sentencing and execution.
Giving the condemned one last decent meal was a practice of the people who had come from the far-off mainland to rule this place. Even children learned early on that before being executed, an intrepid man would wolf down big chunks of meat and gulp bowls of liquor before declaring:
“Beheading just means a bowl-size scar. I’ll be reborn in twenty years as another real man!”
Liquor obviously bolstered the courage of the condemned, but why did they find it necessary to give them meat? The new rulers came from the Yellow River region up north, a landlocked area far from the ocean; decent-sized fish were a prized commodity there, since fish that live in rivers and ponds are usually small. And they tend to be bony, so no one could possibly expect a condemned prisoner—who faced this meal with tears in his eyes (or a blank stare)—to carefully pick out the bones in the dim light before eating his fish.
Beyond that, chopsticks aren’t very useful in picking out bones from river or pond fish, because what happens is that everything falls off the backbone when disturbed by chopsticks. Only with wild saltwater fish, such as the prized yellow croaker, can one pick off large clove-like chunks of tender white meat that remains intact, glittering and translucent. With most other fish, the meat falls off the backbone in a white mushy glob that is barely connected to the dense fibers. Trying to separate the meat from the backbone usually ruins a fish to the point where it completely loses its shape, for the backbone breaks into pieces, from head to tail, before the pin bones can be removed, one at a time.
The preferred method is to cook the fish until its bones turn mushy. Well known for their fine cuisine, the people coming to rule this place from the mainland created a famous dish called “carp slow cooked with green onions.” A talented chef could prepare a palm-sized, bone-filled carp until all the bones were soft, but instead of making the meat lose its texture or taste, the fish is infused with the aroma of pungent green onions.
(Even though green onions and carp are inexpensive ingredients, it ought not to be given to a condemned prisoner for his final meal, for it is time- and energy-consuming.)
Meat is the best choice.
And so, a bowl of beef noodles was what was available to him while he awaited sentencing at the Garrison Command’s Military Court, and where his prison-mate was waiting to face a firing squad.
It was “beef” noodles.
The Garrison Command’s Military Court, a legendary place of mystery, has been compared to the Bastille in Paris.
After his arrest, he suffered through nearly two years of interrogation and was transferred to several detention centers to prevent a confession in collusion with others, before finally being sent to this place to await sentencing.
Transported in a windowless surveillance van, he saw a row of simple prison cells upon his arrival; it was only from other prisoners that he learned of the high walls, barbed wire, and guards. No one could verify or refute these descriptions of the place, since the only ones who ever walked out of the cell block and actually saw other sections of the prison were those who were taken out to be shot or sent to other prisons after sentencing.
(No one could or would want to look back.)
In the cramped prison cells they shared information gathered from here and there in order to describe the Garrison Command’s Military Court—its location, the surrounding area, and what it was like, inside and out. No one could contest anything that was said, but they needed to engage in such discussions to convince themselves that they still existed, that they hadn’t just vanished, and that they hadn’t been forgotten.
(No one could ascertain the veracity of their speculations; to prevent jailbreaks, the guards, the only people with whom they came into contact, were ordered not to provide any information.)
Finally, one day during his seemingly interminable wait, he was moved to a different cell block, where he was allowed to write home to let his family know his whereabouts and, later, for them to visit him.
His family gave him reliable information about his current location. He was indeed still in Taipei, the capital city of the KMT, which had come from the mainland to rule this island. He was in Taipei, but the outskirts. With the money his wife brought on her first visit and the two hundred NT1 she would send each month afterward, he was able to pay for his daily necessities.
The prisoners were given three meals a day, but had to buy their own toothbrushes, soap, towels, and toilet paper. Before a steady supply of these necessities was available to him, he must have lived in fear of having no toilet paper after relieving himself, which was why he always carried with him a bag containing a towel, some toilet paper, a toothbrush, and a certain amount of cash, even after he became a former political prisoner, crowned with the distinction of a dissident.
He was waiting for a verdict that had no definite date of arrival; then it would be a prison sentence, or the death penalty, the only possible outcome for someone found guilty of sedition, as stipulated by the “Temporary Provisions During the Period of Communist Rebellion.”
Taking a prisoner out to be shot—in other words, carrying out the death penalty—usually took place on a Friday. Shortly before daybreak, when the sky was a dusty gray, the light would go on in the guard’s room, signaling to everyone that it was a day for execution. They would not, however, know the identity of the condemned until they saw which cell the lead guard was walking toward and whose name he called out.
Since Friday was execution day, all the prisoners enjoyed a special meal the night before—that is, their Thursday dinner had an additional piece of pork about three inches long plus a cake of tofu.
Prisoners awaiting verdicts looked forward each week to that piece of pork and cake of tofu to satisfy both their taste buds and their hunger, with added nutritional benefits. Finally to their bland, terrible food was added a piece of meat—a tiny, three-inch piece, but meat nevertheless. When they bit down, grease oozed through their teeth, and they could almost hear the happy shouts of pork fat. Then the grease flowed, first moistening dry teeth and gums before reaching other parts of the mouth. Wow, the whole mouth. . . .
Sending out oily grease.
For those under the sentence of death each Thursday night’s three-inch piece of pork and cake of tofu could very well mean his “last, sumptuous supper.”
After notification of a death sentence, the condemned men slept only during the day. Their cellmates volunteered to do their chores for them. Why only during the day? Was it because it was impossible to sleep during the seemingly endless dark night as they awaited the execution that might arrive with daybreak? Or was it a way to cherish their remaining days on earth? Or maybe because it simply felt better to stay awake in the hours before sunrise?
No matter what, at least they had the three-inch piece of pork as well as the tofu and the previous night’s dinner in their stomachs as they waited for what could be their last daybreak. Prison food was bland, with dark rice, wormy flour, and vegetable stalks so thick they could choke you to death.
Everything else would likely already be digested, so they had nothing in their stomachs as they waited for a bullet except for the three-inch piece of pork.
For the others, who awaited sentencing, over the following week the piece of pork often became the topic of discussion in cramped cells for prisoners who had no place to go.
“Why did he get a bigger chunk of pork this time?”
“Why does he always get better meat? Why is his always lean?”
“This is the third time in a row I’ve got nothing but skin. I can barely bite through it. It probably came from an old sow that had given birth to hundreds of piglets.”
“Has he sold out his prison-mates? Why else would he get such good treatment? A large piece of pork every time.”
In any case, pork was a welcome addition to their meal. Sometimes they even joked about it:
“There were bristles on the piece I got. Lots of them standing straight up, like that you-know-what down below. Ha ha ha.”
“Is your you-know-what as skinny as a pig’s bristle?” someone would ask in jest.
Fortunately for them, there would be another Thursday, when they could hope to get a larger chunk from a better part of a pig, with more lean meat.
Those awaiting sentencing were basically sharing the pork prepared for those who would be executed the next day (usually with a bullet), and they might well ask: “Whose pork are we eating this time?”
With his family’s two hundred NT each month, he had more than the Thursday pork to look forward to; if he was careful with his expenses he could enjoy beef noodles once or twice a week.
(A bowl of beef noodles cost five NT in prison.)
At the Garrison Command’s Military Court, there was more to the policy of making beef noodles available to prisoners awaiting sentencing or execution than people might think.
All prisoners were given three meals a day; the rice might be black, the flour wormy, and the vegetable stalks thick enough to choke you to death, but the meals were delivered on time. The beef noodles, on the other hand, had to be specially ordered at five in the afternoon and consumed at nine the same night.
Which meant that, in addition to the five-o’clock dinner with the extra three-inch piece of pork, the prisoners, especially those waiting to see if they would be taken out to be shot at daybreak, might, if they could afford it, order a bowl of beef noodles.
It would be delivered at nine. Nine at night, closer to the time of execution.
The northerners, those who had traveled from the far-off Chinese mainland across the Taiwan Straits to rule this land, were staunch believers that a person must not die as a hungry ghost. In particular, those who died a wrongful death must have a full stomach when they breathed their last, for a hungry ghost is hardest of all to appease.
Before execution, the condemned must be given a decent meal with the basic necessities of pork and liquor; but since this is the most difficult moment in their lives, few manage to swallow the food. Only a tiny minority even take a sip of liquor, thus depriving the last supper of its meaning.
Was this why the Garrison Command’s Military Court, the much-feared Bastille, delivered the beef noodles at nine at night? Since six or seven hours remained till executions were carried out in the morning, was it more palatable to someone who might be taken out at daybreak to be shot?
Naturally he had thought of ordering the noodles for the prison-mate because the other man had been condemned to death.
He would never forget how the man pressed up against the steel bars across the way to hungrily watch him eat his noodles. He watched until the last drop of soup was gone, and then swallowed over and over, his Adam’s apple bouncing up and down.
He also knew why this particular prison-mate craved beef noodles—it was for the spicy pepper sauce, something he was addicted to.
The man’s preference for spicy food was a marker of his origins; he had come to Taiwan around 1949 with the KMT regime to rule Taiwan.
(Since he was one of “their own,” how had he come to be sentenced to death? Shouldn’t the KMT have victimized only the island’s “others”?)
Owing to its subtropical location, with its hot, humid weather, most of the island’s residents do not eat spicy food. Only those who live farther south, in the tropics, need hot peppers to help them sweat and cool off. The KMT regime came from temperate or cold areas and “their own people” ate Chinese red peppers, garlic, and chili peppers to ward off the effects of the island’s high humidity and damp chill.
So the prisoners back then could be roughly divided into those who ate spicy food and those who did not.
Also by the slogans they shouted before being led out to be shot.
To be sure, they no longer shouted:
“I’ll be reborn in twenty years as another real man!”
What they might yell instead was:
“Long live the Communist Party! Long live Mao Zedong!”
“Long live the proletarian revolution!”
“Long live the People’s Republic of China!”
If they were carried out by guards, they would sing “The Internationale” along the way, but usually only a few lines or a few notes before the guards’ rifle butts cut them off.
(These were the spice-eaters—they ate garlic, Chinese red peppers, and chili peppers.)
He and the other Taiwanese political prisoners had not gone to jail for their “red” beliefs. Their crimes were often:
Planning to organize a Taiwan independence alliance.
Planning to organize an Asian alliance.
So they shouted:
“Long live Taiwan independence!”
“Stand up, Taiwanese!”
“Long live the Republic of Taiwan!”
(There were fewer of them, and they generally did not eat spicy food.)
To be sure, there were notable exceptions: Some non-spice-eating Taiwanese were jailed for their “red” beliefs, but in those days hardly any of the spice-eating people who had come over with the KMT supported Taiwan independence.
So when he figured out that his prison-mate was addicted to spicy food he realized that the two of them had come from different places and had been imprisoned for quite different reasons and different political beliefs.
But as political prisoners, their situation was essentially the same. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, spice-eaters with red beliefs and non-spice-eaters who held a notion of Taiwanese independence sympathized with each other and shared common slogans:
“Down with the evil KMT!”
“Down with the Chiang Kai-shek regime!”
He even experienced a profound sense of sorrow for his spice-eating prison-mate.
It was bad enough that Chiang Kai-shek ruled the Taiwanese with an iron fist, but it was far worse that he treated the people who had come with him from China in a similarly ruthless manner.
Could that bowl of beef noodles have become a signifier of their shared misfortune, the compassionate act of a local Taiwanese toward a fellow political prisoner from a far-off place?
But what is the relationship between beef noodles and spicy peppers?
Beef Noodles in Clear Soup Versus Braised Beef Noodle Soup
Noodle soup with beef as its main ingredient should, in fact, be divided into two types:
Beef noodles in clear soup, and braised beef noodle soup.
The former is made with clear soup (or, simply put, water), in which chunks of beef are slow cooked with green onions, ginger, and rice wine. Just add noodles.
Following the same steps, but adding broad-bean paste, soy sauce, and a spice packet produces braised beef noodle soup.
The latter has a sunny shine to its light brown soup, with beef chunks that are an oily golden brown. If you add oil made from hot peppers, a bright, rosy red sheen overlays the steam just beneath the surface. The soup, with its calm, watery surface, gives the impression of a sunset on water, peaceful and serene and yet profoundly enticing. So, unconcerned, you take a big mouthful, and ah! the spicy heat. . . .
Oh, I’m dying!
Dissatisfaction with Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT regime, whose army slaughtered the Taiwanese, compounded by his notions for Taiwanese independence, had landed him in prison with a life sentence. Beef noodles was the only extra food he could order there, and he was convinced that his prison-mate, brought by Chiang Kai-shek from China, along with his addiction to spicy food, would want a bowl of beef noodles before he was executed. But, he felt like asking:
Why would the Garrison Command’s Military Court offer beef noodles as the last supper for the condemned, even though so many of the prisoners were local Taiwanese? Was it to satisfy the tastes of those prisoners who had come from China with the Chiang regime, the so-called mainlanders, such as his spice-addicted prison-mate?
At that time the island people of Taiwan were mostly farmers who considered water buffaloes a major contributor to their livelihood, since the animals worked to till the land. They helped feed the family and were treated like kin, which was why most Taiwanese back then did not eat beef—it was a way to show their gratitude.
“Eating buffaloes and dogs will land you in hell” was a popular saying on the island. Parents taught their children that when they walked by a slaughterhouse where buffaloes were being killed, or even when they just heard the animal’s cries, they were to close their eyes and put their hands behind them to mimic bondage, in order to show that they were themselves bound and unable to help release the animals, though they would if they could. Later, when they stood in front of the King of Hell, Yama would not criticize them for not saving a dying animal.
During fifty years of colonization, the Japanese introduced Westernization to the island, making available such things as steaks, which could be ordered at Western-style places like the Railway Hotel. But when they visited Japan, most Taiwanese would not even try the soup in beef hot-pot dishes.
(How could anyone imagine a condemned Taiwanese holding a bowl of beef noodles and saying it was a good send-off meal?)
If it was important to include meat, why not pork or chicken? For instance, the three-layer meat from the back of pigs, which is boiled and sliced to serve as a common sacrifice to the ghosts, had been a required item in the “last supper” for condemned Taiwanese in years gone by.
If not that, fish would do fine. The island is surrounded by water teeming with big, fat saltwater fish like swordfish, shark, king mackerel, snook, and more, all weighing up to several kilos, as well as being cheap and tasty. Besides, since large fish have fewer bones, they lend themselves to many cooking styles—stir-fried fish filets, steamed fish belly in clear broth, fish tail soup, and fish balls made of mashed flesh.
If a soup such as that in beef noodles was a requisite, then saltwater fish turned into fish chowder was the answer. Say, for instance, king mackerel chowder, a popular local dish filled with island flavor reminiscent of mother’s cooking.
And why must it be beef noodles?
The island, with its sub-tropical climate, has three rice harvests each year. The hot weather is inhospitable to the growth of wheat, which naturally has made the residents rice-eaters. And yet, it was wheat noodles that saw them off “on the road” and provided them with the energy to travel down the path to the underworld.
It would have been a ruthless curse if, based on the many taboos dealing with death in the island’s traditions, the dead would be burdened with more crimes and never granted rebirth just because they had eaten forbidden food (such as the water buffaloes that were so deserving of their gratitude) before they died.
The KMT regime that came from the far-off mainland did not merely control the island, the administrative capital Taipei, or the Garrison Command’s Military Court, which was responsible for imprisoning dissidents. In fact, the KMT regime’s area of control reached far beyond, all the way to the people’s stomachs.
(And included even the place they traveled to after death.)
Nearly three decades later, owing to developments in the political realm, the KMT regime, which had come from the far-off mainland to rule Taiwan, fell from power. Accordingly, he was transformed from a highly regarded dissident into a politician with real power. And still he often mentioned the bowl of noodles he had failed to order.
He genuinely regretted his failure; it was not an act. The kindness he had not been able to demonstrate at the time became enduring remorse, convincing people that he had not lost his passion.
Then one day, developments in cross-straits politics made it possible for him to visit the mainland, though naturally he was forced to travel under the label of “returning Chinese” by the PRC government. Believing that his twenty-three years of imprisonment were sufficient proof of his unquestioned love for the island, he crossed the Taiwan Straits in search of a “major reconciliation,” hoping to open up space for both sides to engage in a peaceful dialogue.
(His fellow former political prisoners, on the other hand, were convinced that he was scheming to reap political gains, that he had betrayed the ideal of Taiwan independence and abandoned his fellow Taiwanese out of a desire for power.)
When he arrived in Sichuan, China, he asked for something he had once enjoyed in Taiwan, a bowl of braised beef noodles.
Feeling that, as a “guest” from afar, particularly a so-called supporter of Taiwan independence, he ought to show how broad-minded he could be by not dismissing the sinicizing influence on Taiwan by the KMT regime. And to show good will toward the local residents, he explained enthusiastically,
“We call braised beef noodles Sichuan Beef Noodles.”
Then he added, “The dish came to Taiwan from Sichuan after 1949 and has retained its original flavor, which is why we call it Sichuan Beef Noodles.”
But no matter how hard he searched throughout the province, no one could produce the Sichuan Beef Noodles he described. The locals were actually amazed to learn that something called Sichuan Beef Noodles had crossed the Straits to reach far-off Taiwan.
At first he thought they had lost track of pre-revolutionary Sichuan Beef Noodles owing to all the major political events and campaigns launched by the Communist Party. But after exhaustive research, he was surprised to learn that no one in Sichuan had ever heard of the Sichuan Beef Noodles popular in Taiwan, let alone the particular type he had once failed to order in prison.
He did, however, find something called Red Beef Soup, a spicy beef soup with Chinese peppers, but it was drastically different from the Sichuan Beef Noodles eaten in Taiwan. The most obvious difference was the lack of broad-bean paste, that and the hot peppers used to give the soup a numbing spicy sensation. The Sichuan Beef Noodles from Taiwan included spicy oil made of hot peppers, plus the spicy broad-bean paste, so the noodles were spicy but not numbing.
(Hot peppers from the South Pacific did not arrive in China until midway through the Qing dynasty, or no more than two hundred years ago.)
A more important difference was that people in Sichuan would never add boiled noodles to beef soup to make so-called beef noodles, no matter what they were called. In Sichuan, beef soup is beef soup and noodles are noodles; they do not mix.
He had to admit that he was shocked. For over four decades he had assumed that the Sichuan Beef Noodles available everywhere in Taiwan had come from Sichuan. But now, having arrived in Sichuan to search out the eponymous noodles, he learned that they do not exist there, and in fact originated in Taiwan.
At that moment, he experienced a keen sense of temporal and spatial displacement, as a myriad of images and events flashed before his eyes, including the bowl of beef noodles he had failed to order many years earlier in prison. He had thought that his stomach was under KMT control during all those fearful, desperate years in his tiny prison cell, those twenty-three years of suffering owing to his belief in Taiwan independence.
What exactly did Taiwan become in the wake of the massive cross-straits migration in 1949? Would things have been different if he’d known that his beef noodles came not from Sichuan, but from the hands of army cooks, making them a “Taiwanese” concoction?
(Are there more of these “Taiwanese” products in Taiwan? If so, how will we deal with them in the future?)
Years later, Wang Qifang, a so-called writer (according to her father), would write a biography of the former political dissident. The bowl of beef noodles he had failed to order particularly moved her.
After conducting research, based upon the consensus views of gourmands from all over the island, she reached a conclusion that has become a shared understanding of “beef noodles” on the island.
There are Taiwan Beef Noodles and there are Sichuan-Style Beef Noodles
In 1949, after a resounding defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek had fled with his government and army to the tiny island of Taiwan across the Taiwan Straits, bringing with him thousands of ordinary people. Some of the discharged NCOs settled in Fengshan, on the southern tip of the island, where, calling upon recollections of hometown specialties, they began making broad-bean paste, some spicy, some not.
They made braised beef soup by adding broad-bean paste and a spice packet to beef soup, then dumped in boiled noodles to create their famous beef noodles.
During the immediate post-war era, when the island was racked by pervasive poverty, some beef noodle shops shredded pickled vegetables to spice up the soup for their customers. That started a fad of adding all sorts of things to the dish: spicy hot oil, pickled vegetables, garlic, and more.
The creators of the beef noodles, the NCOs from Sichuan, were experts in spicy beef noodles, which lent the dish its moniker, Sichuan Beef Noodles. Noodle shop owners who were not from Sichuan cashed in on the popularity of the dish by calling theirs Sichuan-Style Beef Noodles. It did not take long for beef noodles to gain popularity all across Taiwan, and it no longer mattered whether it was called Sichuan or Sichuan-Style, since personalized variations, such as Old Zhang’s Beef Noodles or Li Family Beef Noodles, burst onto the scene to meet demand.
When the island’s economy took off, people became increasingly particular about food. Clear broth and thin soup, with its bland flavor, no longer appealed to diners’ taste buds, so a refined process was created by adding beef bones, beef tendons, sometimes chicken bones, which were slow cooked to make a rich stock.
Studies and experiments were then conducted to improve the broad-bean paste and spice packets. The paste from Fengshan in southern Taiwan was generally recognized as the best. Some producers even spiced the dish up with red wine dregs, not only to add flavor, but to give the soup a lovely red glow, tender like a virgin, instead of the bland brown of the stew beef. Likewise, close attention was paid to the spice packets.
These packets could include peppercorns, anise seeds, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and fennel to mask the gamy smell of the beef and give the soup a seasoned flavor. In time, some considered the anise overpowering and cloves dominating, so the quantity of both spices was reduced or eliminated altogether. More people stressed the fact that no MSG was used, replacing it with licorice root, which, according to the Compendium of Materia Medica, has a natural sweet taste and provides a good counterbalance to the toxicity of the meat, which must be grade-A choice beef, slightly chewy. Farmed beef tends to be soft and cannot withstand hours of slow cooking. The best meat comes from the front shank, which, when cooked, shows attractive transparent streaks of tendon.
So, the rich stock, the spice packet, red wine, and chunks of beef are slow cooked over a low fire until the flavor of the beef is fully brought out and the soup is just right. The noodles, whether thick or thin, must be handmade and cooked al dente. Some people have even experimented with Japanese udon noodles (but no one, apparently, has tried using spaghetti).
Whether to add chili peppers, spicy oil, garlic, or pickled vegetable shreds is left up to the diner.
In the 1990s, when trade opened up across the Taiwan Straits, some Taiwanese went to the mainland to open beef noodle shops, but were unsure how to advertise the dish. It seemed inappropriate to call it Sichuan Beef Noodles. So they listed it on the menu and shop sign as Sichuan-Style Beef Noodles.
Others simply called it Taiwan Beef Noodles.
These days, even restaurants in Europe and America call the dish Taiwan Beef Noodles to distinguish it from its mainland counterparts.
Translated by Sylvia Li-chun Lin
1 New Taiwan dollars.
Li Ang is widely regarded as one of the most influential authors writing in Taiwan today. Her work has been translated into many languages around the world, and she recently received the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Minister of Culture and Communication in recognition of her outstanding contribution to world literature. Reviews of her fiction have appeared in publications such as the New York Times; her work has been adapted into films and a television series. Her bold style and willingness to tackle gender taboos in Taiwan places her work at the forefront of feminist Chinese literature. Her work cannot be reduced to its groundbreaking feminist successes, however, as it draws its distinctive power from a wide spectrum of historical and cultural issues and themes, none of which escape her penetrating insights. A recent finalist for the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, Li Ang is poised to become a household name among those readers with an eye for important developments in world literature.
From Chinese Literature Today Vol. 2 No.1