People can be so annoying. I was in the condo lift last night and this young brash expat-type (non-local) Millennial was having difficulties figuring out the lift system. The building has private lifts that you can access the floor only if you have intercommed the home owner. He was griping that “Singapore is such a stupid place. The people try to be so high tech but they can’t make anything work.” And when I helped him to use the intercom system to get the lift to his floor, there was nary a word of thanks…I seethed for the rest of the night because he didn’t only diss my country, he also acted like I was a completely invisible and useless part of the population. His girlfriend must have felt bad because she was trying to point out “Oh look! Toshiba! See it’s not Singapore’s fault!” Of course, extremely uncharitable thoughts were running through my mind about how his home country is actually an epitome of how things don’t actually work. It’s seldom to see such arrogance and entitlement but it becomes hard not to build up racial prejudices from encounters like this.
I don’t think I’m a rampant nationalist but I happen to be secretly proud of my shiny little city state country. Of course I reserve the right to complain against the “gahmen” and various quirks that exist in this place. And when it comes to food, I’m so grateful that I live in Singapore. I was just watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” which featured his seventh visit to Singapore. He paid tribute to the tremendous food culture here and also the absolute passion for food among the locals. We don’t need to look too far for great meals at any time of the day (yes and even in the dead of the night!). I truly believe that we have better street food here than many restaurants in many parts of the world. I do have my own favorites however and nothing makes me happier than remaking these recipes to be low carb friendly. The great thing about beef noodle soup is that it doesn’t really need much tweaking – I just do a simple Shirataki noodle substitute for the thick white rice noodle that usually goes into this dish.
This beef soup is probably Hainanese in origin. The Hainanese form the 5th largest dialect group among the Chinese in Singapore and were relatively late immigrants from the Chinese diaspora. Because the other dialect groups were already established in commerce and other more lucrative industries, the Hainanese immigrants ended up in the food industry, becoming cooks, waiters and bus boys. They were credited with bringing in the coffee shop (kopitiam) culture into Singapore as well as some of Singapore’s more famous food icons such as Chicken Rice, Hainanese pork chop and even the Singapore Sling was created by a famous Hainanese bartender in the Raffles Hotel.
Hainanese beef noodles usually comes in a soup version as well as a dryer version that has a thick gravy over the noodles instead of a clear soup. Both versions are rich and tasty; the thick gravy version usually features meatballs whereas the clear soup version features other cuts of beef like beef tendon or beef tripe, which is what I have included here. This recipe is for 8 people and a dish like this, because it takes so long to prepare, is probably worth doing when you have a small crowd of people to feed.
For Singapore food purists, I have to apologise for taking the liberty of using a ginger dipping sauce to pair with the sambal chili dipping sauce that actually has its roots in chicken rice condiments. Ginger and beef is such a nice pairing and I couldn’t help the urge to tweak this part of the recipe. The sambal chili sauce can be easily found in any supermarket in Singapore.
Beef Noodle Soup
- 2 pieces of beef bone, about 750g
- 750 g flank steak, sliced thinly
- 500g beef tendon
- 500 g beef tripe
- 500 g beef balls
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 2 – 3 cloves
- 1 tbsp white peppercorns
- 1 inch piece of ginger
- Shirataki noodles (1-2 packets per person) or regular thick white noodles (about 800 – 1000g for 8 people)
- 1 bunch cilantro, leaves plucked and stems discarded
- 1/2 cup chopped spring onions
- 500 g bean sprouts
- Ginger dipping sauce
- Sambal dipping sauce
Ginger dipping sauce
- 1 whole young ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 tbsp chopped spring onions
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- Clean beef bones. Bring a pot of water to the boil, then blanch the beef bones for about 5 minutes. Remove beef bones and rinse.
- Fill a stock pot with water and add the beef bones. Bring to a boil and simmer for 6 hours. Periodically remove the scum from the top.
- Remove the beef bones and add the beef tendon and beef tripe into the pot, together with the cinnamon stick, star anise, white peppercorns and cloves. Boil for another 3 hours, removing the scum along the way.
- Add the flank beef pieces and gently simmer for another hour. Continue to remove scum from the top.
- In the meantime, prepare the ginger sauce. Finely grate the ginger and place in a heat proof bowl. Heat up 3 tbsp of oil. When hot, pour carefully into the ginger and mix through. Add the spring onions and mix through.
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Blanch the bean sprouts and drain, then set aside.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil. Briefly blanch the thick white noodles and set aside. If using Shirataki noodles, drain the packing liquid and rinse the noodles, then dry fry on a non-stick pan until slightly dry and less translucent.
- Add the beef balls to the soup. Cook for about 5 – 10 minutes, after which the soup is ready to serve.
- In deep bowls, place the noodles, a handful of bean sprouts and a sprinkling of spring onions and coriander. Scoop out a selection of beef balls, beef tendon, beef tripe and beef strips and arrange on top of the noodles. Top with generous scoops of soup and serve hot, with sambal chili and ginger sauce on the side.