Taiwan has long been known as the spiritual home of beef noodles. From cheap street vendor stalls to high-end restaurants, no two bowls of beef noodles are the same in this region obsessed with cuisine. So it should come as no shock that it is in the island’s capital city of Taipei where you will find the world’s most expensive bowl of beef noodles.
Niu Ba Ba (which interestingly translates as ‘Beef Father’) started out in 1990 as a small beef noodle store offering affordable noodles to the local community. However, the business didn’t do as well as expected, and after only 11 days one of the partners pulled out, leaving Mr. Wang as the sole proprietor. Unfortunately, he knew very little about the beef noodle business and so set about educating himself.
Mr. Wang soon realized that it was not a lack of demand that was holding the business back but an inferior product, and so he set about redeveloping their recipes. By 1995, he felt that he had earned the right to price his noodles at a premium and so started charging NT$600 per bowl, which is about US$20. At the time, this was an astronomical price for a bowl of noodles, but such was the demand for his tasty noodles that customers were more than willing to pay.
Mr. Wang said that a conversation with a famous Hong Kong DJ encouraged him to challenge himself even further. “This DJ ordered six bowls and tasted them all but informed me that I was missing a $3,000 bowl. He then went on to say that he would order one if I had it but unfortunately I didn’t. This put the idea into my head that I could do better, and so I did.”
He decided to bring in more expensive ingredients and develop the best beef noodles regardless of the cost. The result was a bowl of noodles that cost the NT$3,000 (US$100) that the DJ had suggested. Cue media frenzy and customers falling over themselves to taste these now legendary noodles.
People from all over the world began to take notice, and yes, you guessed it, Mr. Wang once again decided that he could do better. In 2001, he spared no expense with his first attempt at Presidential Beef Noodles. Using only the finest ingredients, he created what many food critics have described as a culinary masterpiece.
But unsure of how he should price his new dish, Mr. Wang decided to let the customers choose how much they should pay. By 2007, the Presidential Beef Noodles had become so popular that Mr. Wang set a price of NT$10,000 for one bowl. Yes, that’s about US$330 for a bowl of noodles!
Surprisingly though, this price is based on customer feedback and their offers. Mr. Wang said that the least he was offered for a bowl was NT$8,000 while the most was NT$12,000. Customers also told him that they would prefer to have a set price, as making an offer sometimes leads to an uncomfortable feeling at the end of your meal.
Now, this is no simple bowl of noodles. There’s much more to each serving than you think. One bowl contains four different kinds of beef. One US prime beef boneless short rib, three Australian 9+ Wagyu beef boneless short ribs, one Angus prime rib, and one Australian beef mixed with tendon. And while you might just assume that everything is thrown into the bowl and boiled up, the process is far more intricate.
Each piece of meat requires a particular temperature and cooking time so that they are both succulent and have that ‘fall-apart-in-the-mouth’ consistency that you find in only the very best beef noodles.
As for the soup, no it’s not just boiling water and bone broth. The soup consists of three layers; a lighter broth at the bottom, thick in the middle, and the oil from the meat cooking process on the top. With such attention to detail, the prime ingredients sourced from around the world, and the many years of research, it’s little wonder that the bowl is so expensive.
After reading a lot of reviews and media coverage throughout the years, this quote from Vintage Luxe magazine seems to sum up Niu Ba Ba’s noodles best: ‘The luxurious cost lies not in the beef, but the perfection achieved after 20 years of effort. This isn’t just culinary skills, but Mr. Wang’s life’s work.’
Time to start saving for your next bowl of beef noodles.
Niu Ba Ba, 149 Minquan East Road Section 6, Taipei City, Taiwan, +886 (0)2 8791 7187