In Taiwan, beef noodle soup is an institution. But one hyped Phnom Penh eatery’s take on the recipe might just give Taipei a run for its money
The Man Hao Ji Noodle Shop, which opened a few blocks back from the riverside strip about two months ago, is a restaurant that takes its Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup seriously. As they should. Beef noodle soup is Taiwan’s national dish. They even have an annual festival in Taipei to determine the nation’s best.
Man Hao Ji’s is served in big white bowls with matching ceramic soup spoons, clean and simple. The bright surroundings are likewise. The floor is fake wood linoleum, the tables fake marble and the walls done in (presumably real) tiles and cream.
When we popped in for lunch recently, the soundtrack was a strange mix of pop instrumental remixes. Men at Work’s Down Under was playing when we arrived, followed by Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger as we placed an order for a couple of bowls.
It’s often said that the key to good noodle soup is the broth. Whether you’re eating Vietnamese pho, Japanese ramen, Burmese mohinga or Malaysian laksa, the soup should be flavoursome and hearty; there’s nothing worse than noodles served in thin, insipid dishwater.
But that’s not the whole story – you need to get the accoutrements right too.
The chef at Man Hao Ji certainly has his broth down: caramel-coloured, full-flavoured and aromatic, a little sweet, but not cloying.
But unlike some other noodle joints in town, it gets the other elements pretty much right as well. The fresh-pulled noodles are just al dente, they have a good amount of bite to them, and the crunchy, green bok choy is fresh and not overcooked.
The highlight though is the thick slices of braised beef. Cooked for hours in the stock, they’re ‘fall off your chopsticks’ tender. And there are plenty of them too.
A bowl isn’t cheap at $5, but you get plenty of soup for your money.
For those not in the mood for noodley meat soup, there are other things on the menu. We tried a surprisingly satisfying bowl of dry noodles with tomato and egg, and a refreshing but spicy cucumber salad spiked with chilli. However, the drinks list is limited to sodas and tea.
Would the Man Hao Ji Noodle Shop’s noodle soup win the top gong at Taipei’s annual beef noodle soup festival? Probably not. But it would certainly be in the running if there were ever a competition in Phnom Penh.
Man Hao Ji Noodle Shop, #39 Street 118.