Sunday, 15/10/2023 10:38

Mỳ Bò Đài Loan: A taste of Taiwan near the heart of Hà Nội


This popular noodle spot is a must visit. Photos courtesy of Alex Reeves

By Alex Reeves - @afreeves23 

Just a kilometre or so south of Hoàn Kiếm Lake there's a little corner of Taiwan on Trần Quốc Toản Street that, as with so many of Việt Nam’s best bites, could easily be missed. A spot for those of the curious palate who still enjoy the comfort and reliability that noodle and broth brings. This part of the district with its sporadic assortment of bougie cafes, wine bars and traditional markets is an area not so commonly traversed by Tây Hồ tied expats or cost conscious locals. 

I strongly recommend that trend come to an end as many of Hà Nội’s best kept secrets are located here among the blend of modern and colonial-style architecture. Both charcuterie stuffed delicatessens and humble noodle spots alike are at home in the neighbourhood I first called home when I arrived here some six years ago. 

At first glance, this unassuming eatery might not grab your attention. I had walked past it a dozen times and long since moved to new surroundings before it appeared on my radar thanks to our online ‘foodie’ community. Plastic tables and stools line the sidewalk, a downstairs kitchen and space upstairs for the heat and mosquito conscious among us.

Don’t let this all too familiar appearance fool you. In a city of a thousand broths, this isn’t your regular phở bò [beef noodle], it’s a taste of Taiwan. 

The star of the show here is, of course, the broth. Dark as the night, it's a rich, almost black potion that oozes character and depth with a captivating sweetness and slight kick. If you, as more Vietnamese than ever before, are considering Taiwan for your next holiday destination, this is a great introduction to the island’s flavour profile and it’s a soup of which I never leave a drop. Should the sweetness be a little overpowering to the Northern palate, lime, chilli and garlic are on hand to make the appropriate sensory adjustments. 

It might be sacrilege to say in a country where bún [rice vermicelli] is the boss but the noodles here are my favourite. Thick, yellow, egg-style strands that possess the perfect amount of chew. They're a sturdy foundation for the remaining components of the dish to build upon. Each mouthful as good as the last, new and different flavours in a familiar setting, a reminder that the world is smaller than we sometimes imagine. These noodles don't just carry the dish; they hold it together where thinner members of the noodle family may fail. 

Now, let's talk about the beef. Thick generous chunks of meat that have clearly been marinating in the broth's secrets. They part with ease for spoon or chopsticks, such is their tenderness, and melt in your mouth as the few fatty morsels we allow ourselves begin to dissolve in delightful decadence. This isn’t a fatty or chewy affair, it’s beef that’s been cooked slowly and won’t leave the carnivorous visitor disappointed.  


Pak Choi/Bok Choy adds a crunch to an already delicious bowl.

But what sets the Mỳ Bò Đài Loan here apart is the pak choi, the unsung hero of this bowl. These emerald greens are a fresh, juicy burst; crisp, and full of character. Their inclusion provides a delightful crunch which complements in contrast with the noodles' softness and the beef's tenderness. Where this vegetable often takes a back seat in Việt Nam's noodle broth scene, here it’s a welcome change, front and centre. It provides texture and readies us for more flavour in the mouthful to follow, ensuring our taste buds never get complacent.

Now, there was an issue for me here. So accustomed to tracking down ‘authentic’ dishes and leaning into the homemade generational narrative that is so popular in writers' culinary contributions, that I hesitated on reviewing the place. I invited a new friend, Lâm, to join me for dinner and our conversational investigations revealed there was no Taiwanese family or heritage heading up this relatively young (five years) venture. 

All good broths start with a hearty bone filled stock.

Some purists might argue that authenticity is sacrosanct when it comes to a classic dish in a foreign country. It's often thought to be a closely guarded family secret, passed down through from mother to daughter, father to son. And while there's something undeniably charming about the idea of Grandma's recipe, it shouldn’t prevent us from diving deep into new discoveries or recommending them to others, lest we risk falling into the realms of food snobbery. 

What's actually so endearing about this place is the story behind it. It's not a case of cultural appropriation or trying to outdo the masters of the craft. Instead, it's a family business that embarked on a journey to honour a dish they fell in love with and believed could find a home in their corner of Hà Nội. It takes a certain level of audacity to dive into a foreign recipe, let alone make it a staple of your local food scene. And that braveness is something that shines through in the boldness of their broth. VNS


Mỳ Bò Đài Loan

Address: 49 Trần Quốc Toản Street, Hoàn Kiếm District

Tel: 0932 741 972

Price: VNĐ55,000 or US$2.25 (for one bowl of the good stuff)

Dining companions: Anyone who fancies a change from the norm.

Top tip: This is a big bowl, also order the Char Siu pork rice (Cơm xá xíu) and share with a friend.


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