One of the things I miss most about the Bay Area, is the abundance of south-east Asian restaurants. Yes we have our share of Thai and Vietnamese places here with a small sprinkling of Malaysian, but they are passable at best, often laden with MSG and salt. The worst part is that they miss the the whole point of being “cheap asian food” by being expensive.
Being a noodle soup fanatic, I especially miss having good Pho and Kuai Tiao Neua (Thai beef noodle soup). Both the noodles and soup are light and refreshing, making a perfect 1 bowl meal on even the hottest summer day. Back in the Bay, there’s a Thai Buddhist temple off MLK in Berkeley that makes a $5 bowl of noodles on Sundays that is indistinguishable from something you’d get from a street vendor in Bangkok.
Rather than continue my futile search for a descent bowl of beef noodle soup in Manhattan, I decided to try making it myself. While I can’t vouch for its authenticity, eating this sent me back to a steamy Bangkok street, tuk-tuks and all.
Spices for the soup: cinnamon stick, ginger, cilantro stems & roots, garlic, peppercorns, star anise
2 lbs ox tail
10 C water
1 star anise
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves garlic
1 knob of ginger sliced
small handful of cilantro roots/stems
1 yellow onion peeled and quartered
1 Tbs brown sugar (or more to taste)
2 Tbs fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
salt to taste
8 oz rice “stick” noodles rehydrated in warm water
6 beef balls (I like to make my own, but you can buy them at an asian grocery)
1/4 sweet onion sliced thin
fried garlic chips & oil
Meicai (Hakka preserved vegetables) rehydrated and chopped.
1 jalepeno pepper sliced
First, boil a large pot of water; add the ox tail and boil for about 7 minutes. What you’re trying to do here is to get all the foamy floaty stuff out of the oxtail so your soup comes out nice and clear. Dump this out through a strainer discarding the water, rinse the pot then thoroughly clean each piece of oxtail.
Add the cleaned ox tail and 10 cups of fresh water into the pot along with the star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems/roots, and onion. Bring it to a boil then lower the heat to low, cover and simmer for 3-4 hours (the longer you go, the more depth your soup will have).
While you’re waiting you can make some garlic chips by mandolining a few garlic cloves then adding them to a few tablespoons of hot oil over medium heat. Stir to ensure even browning then remove to a paper towel lined plate when they reach a nice golden brown.
When it’s done, pass the soup through a strainer into another pot skimming off any excess oil. Season with the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and salt. I tend to go light on the salt as some of the condiments I add have some salt in them, but if you’re not planning on adding anything later, feel free to give it a bit more salt. Pick the meat off the bones and set aside.
To serve, boil a large pot of water, add the rehydrated rice noodles, stirring until the water comes to a boil again (about 1 minute). Meanwhile, reheat the beef balls in the soup. When the noodles are done, strain them through colander and add to the bowls. Top the noodles with some of the ox tail meat, onions, garlic chips, a bit of the garlic oil and Meicai. Laddle the hot soup and beef balls over the noodles then serve with the rest of the condiments. I also like having a little bowl of Sriracha and hoisin sauce to dip the meat in.