Friday, April 23, 2010

Northern China cooking in Colorado

In 2008, I studied/worked in Beijing for four months. What an endlessly enthralling city. I could spend hours wandering around old areas of the city, watching the people, eating the food, and marvelling at a culture that places so much importance on family and food. If you take someone out to eat and no food is left sitting on the table, you are a very bad person. For more about my China experience, see my travel blog.

And oh, the food! I loved getting hot bing (flat bread with tasty addition) from the streets and markets. Fried omlettes with spicy sauces and fried things, sichuan hot pot so flavorful you could cry, bao with vegetables or barbequed pork or eggs, simple vegetable dishes. And no frickin' rice if you didn't want it. My favorite was always beef noodle soup. I first had it while visiting a high school friend who was teaching English in Western China. We went to a little shop called 牛面大王. Beef noodle big king. (big wang = big king). I later found out that there were many variants of this name on unrelated noodle shops throughout the city. The cooks would take a chunk of dough and pull it long. Then fold it over and pull it again. And again. And again and again before throwing it into a pot of boiling water. These guys give a new meaning to fresh noodles. Add in some delicious spicy beefy broth, some beef chunks, veggies, and cilantro, and you have a winning combo. Some key ingredients to the flavor: star anise and sichuan peppercorns. Don't eat them from the soup, or you'll be sad.

I ate this at every chance I could (not hard considering the university cafeterias served it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), but have been unable to find it or successfully reproduce it since returning to the States. Last month, Bon Appetit posted a recipe for beef noodle soup, and I decided it was a sign.

Despite the difficulty of not finding star anise of sichuan peppercorns (not really like peppercorns at all) at the supermarket, I prevailed and served it to friends last night. It met expectations. When buying noodles, we get the eggless #5 noodles from the red box in Chinese grocery stores. Spaghetti is not the same.

Big King Beef Noodle Soup
adapted from Bon Appetit

makes about 8 servings
  • 3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp black bean garlic sauce (from asian food stores)
  • 2 Tbsp spicy sichuan hot pot seasoning (or other spicy item)
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 6 whole or broken star anise
  • 1 1/2 tsp Sichian peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 pound Chinese wheat noodles
  • 2 baby bok choy. sliced lengthwise
  • fresh chopped cilantro
  • chopped green onions
  1. Bring large pot of water to boil. Add beef and boil until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove beef and cut into 1 inch cubes. Drain and wipe out pot.
  2. Heat oil in pan over medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 10 cups water, beef, soy sauce, flavorings, spices, salt, and sugar and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Make sure the soup doesn't boil so the beef doesn't get tough.
  3. Add tomatoes to pot. Simmer for 50 minutes. Add bok choy and cook another 10 minutes
  4. Cook noodles and drain
  5. Divide noodles into bowls and top with broth and soup goodies. Garnish with cilantro and green onions.

Next time you're in China, get yourself some.


  1. Yum, this sounds awesome, Ali! :)

  2. Wow, this looks really tasty!

  3. Oh yes, red box Chinese noodles are the way to go. If only they came with a movie...