One of the things that makes me laugh about the various accusations of restaurant roachery (OK, some of these incidents are pretty gross) that surface from time to time in Taiwan is the fact that, in my years here, I’ve seen the hardy pests in dozens of eateries of all levels.
From wet market shacks, where they frolic in the gutters, to air-conditioned haute cuisine establishments, where it’s usually the youngsters scuttling across surfaces, you really can’t get shot of the blighters.
So, as I paid up at Xiao Liu La Mian (小六手工拉麵拉麵) on Saturday, I wasn’t in the slightest bit perturbed to see one of the small type darting along the serving counter, before taking refuge under the service bell. I shook him out, and between us, the boss and I made short work of him with a damp cloth.
Profuse apologies ensued but they weren’t necessary. Apart from a few yet-to-be-cleaned splotches on a couple of tables, this place was spic and span. I just don’t think there is any way to keep roaches out.
I’d been meaning to come to Xiao Liu for some time. They have a branch on Heping East Rd too, but this one makes sense for me, as it’s on my way to work. Located in a food alley that runs underground from Zhongxiao West Road to the corner of Nanyang Street, the restaurant always catches my attention because of the large, strategically-placed window, where you can often see an employee kneading, flipping and pulling the dough for the noodles.
This viewing spot seems a really smart move: Plenty of tourists stop to watch the master noodle tuggers in action. Still, apart from a group of high school kids lingering over cups of the free tea and smacking each other with schoolteacher little hands of love (愛的小手), the place was deserted. I was there at a rather odd hour, mind.
These are some good beef noodles. A dedicated spicemeister, I went for the red oil variety and, having asked him not to hold back on the heat, I was not disappointed. “Let me know if they’re not hot enough,” he said as he brought the bowl over.
A dollop of roasted, dry chillies sat on a floating hunk of meat; next to it, a bed of chopped spring onions, with some pickle (酸菜) peaking through the gaps. There wasn’t quite enough of the latter for my liking, nor was there a portable can of it for self service. I’ve remarked before that this omission definitely loses one points in the Quest for the Golden Horns.
One really good touch was the two sprigs of pak choi 1, fresh as you like, and providing a nice bitter, zesty counterpoint to the fiery broth.
As a purist, I’m always a bit suss when a beef noodlery offers an incongruous array of supporting dishes. It pangs of jack of all trades, master of none. On the menu at Xiao Liu are other noodle soups, including prawn curry, pork, and mutton in one of those medicine broths. Deep fried chicken snacks and dim sum also feature. Roaches are an optional extra.
Despite these distractions, Xiao Liu is no charlatan. Though I went with a more traditional offering this time, which was well worth the NT$130, the short ribs (a more extravagant NT$200) look lush and are definitely pencilled in for a later date.
To get to the food alley head for the Caesar Park Hotel (台北凱撒大飯店) complex on Zhongxiao West Road Sec. 1. From the street, take Taipei Station Exit M6, next to the Coldstone Creamery ice cream store (you can smell the sickly sweet odour a mile away). A of couple meters to the right is MRT Exit 6, labelled the Caesar Mall, which serves you just as well. Around the corner on Nanyang St (南陽街) is an entrance/exit with no number but just a big red and blue sign reading MRT Taipei Main Station, with the Chinese adding the characters for gateway at the end (捷運台北車站出入口). This one actually has you descending to the end of the alley closest to the restaurant. From inside the MRT just head out through the barriers toward Caesar Park and Hsingkong Mitskoshi (新光三越), do a left up the stairs and then a right.
The full address in Chinese is: 台北市中正區忠孝西路一段47號B1
- I find the nomenclature for what we refer to in the West by the Cantonese name pak choi rather confusing. The generic and misleading name Chinese cabbage is used for several distinct vegetables. For most speakers of Mandarin, the correct name is, I think, youcai (油菜) – literally “oil vegetable,” which is the Chinensis type of Chinese cabbage. Although this is apparently related to Western cabbage (高麗菜) , the taste and texture are nothing like it. ↩