Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Beef Noodle Soup 牛肉麵 @ Mama Lan

There are many styles of beef noodle soup including Vietnamese pho and Cantonese beef brisket noodles (牛腩麵). However, the most iconic beef noodle soup is, arguably, the one known in Chinese as 牛肉麵 niu rou mian. This dish is widely thought of as being Taiwanese, but in actual fact, it has its origins in Chinese Muslim cuisine. The Taiwanese connection only came about because it was introduced to the island by the retreating Nationalist KMT army following their defeat in the Chinese Civil War.

History lesson over, beef noodle soup (£7.50) is the newest dish on the menu at Mama Lan, and I was kindly invited by the owner, Ning, to give it a Masterchef-style appraisal. I accepted on the basis that I didn't actually have to pretend to be either John Torode or Gregg Wallace.

As with any soup noodle dish, I started with a slurp of the soup. And it didn't disappoint, as it was made with stock that was chock full of aromatics, with the reassuring scent of star anise taking centre-stage. The beef shin was slow-cooked to tender perfection, and being sourced from The Ginger Pig, it was of excellent quality. This dish isn't meant to be super-spicy, but a few chopped chillies and a touch of chilli oil did lend it some heat.

Negatives? The noodles were ever so slightly overcooked and they lacked the QQ bounce that is so important in soup noodle dishes. However, this is forgivable given that this dish was being sold for the first time that night. Moreover, the team at Mama Lan have taken this on board, and intend to reduce the cooking time of the noodles.

Hardcore beef noodle aficionados may also be disappointed that there's no tendon or cartilage option. That said, Mama Lan is located in Brixton, not Beijing, and it's a bit much to expect them to convert the locals to these textural delights.

Overall, this dish showed promise, and I think it's a welcome addition to the menu at Mama Lan. After all, every Chinese joint should serve noodles in my opinion. Especially somewhere that specialises in the food of Beijing and the north of China.

I was a guest of Mama Lan. For a review of my first visit to this eatery, please click here.

Mama Lan Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Mama Lan, Brixton Village Market, Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8PR
Nearest station: Brixton


  1. You are right that very few people know of the Muslim origin of the beef noodle soup. If you are ever in China you should try the Lan Zhou La Mian. Very tasty and only 5rmb. In Flushing, New York, there is a branch as well. A bowl costs $5USD.

  2. I had no idea of the origin of beef noodle soup - it's interesting to find that out. I wonder if a lot of Chinese dishes have moved in their history, particularly given the upheavals of the last hundred years or so.

    The noodle soup sounds very good, can I just ask, what is "QQ"? I've read it before and nodded sagely, but with no idea of what it actually means.

    I think Brixton Village is rapidly making this little corner of south London a real foodie destination for me.

  3. Kay - we've talked about going to Brixton for a crawl, we must sort it out one day.

    Kelly - welcome! Thank you for the noodle tips for both China and New York.

    Gworm - QQ describes the springy or bouncy texture upon biting into food e.g. good fishballs should be QQ, as should certain types of Chinese noodles. I think the term originates from Hokkien/Taiwanese, but it has crept into common usage amongst other Chinese dialects.

  4. Cooking noodles for Mr. Noodles... "Cooking doesn't get tougher then this!" It took a few tries before we were happy with the soup base so I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    I love tendons and offal but the BBC boyfriend has banned me from putting on lambs liver, heart and intestine soup or my personal favourite sliced boiled sheeps head with peppercorn salt on our menu!

  5. An interesting history lesson. I was always under the impression that it originated in Taiwan. Good to learn something new.

    I'm still reading mixed reports about this place, but if they can some consistency in that base then I will be camping outside their shop every day for a bowl.

  6. Mama Lan - thanks again! One day, I'm sure you can slip in some offal on the menu!

    Mzungu - no disrespect to our Taiwanese friends, but due to its history, most of its food culture has its roots in mainland China (particularly Fujian province), and to a lesser extent, Japan.

  7. ooh the beef noodles i'm most used to is the kind with a thick beef gravy. i don't know what style that is! interesting bit about the chinese--muslim history!

  8. Shu Han - Not sure what noodle you mean? Only one I can think of is possibly beef brisket noodles but it usually comes with thinner gravy.

  9. I've had szechuan beef noodles that were in a deep, rich, dark brown sauce-like soup. Spicy and intensely beefy. That was in Seattle, in a restaurant called the Szechuan noodle bowl, and I've been looking for a similar beefy Szechuan noodle soup in London without success. (I have been to Ba Shan.) Any recs? Also, thanks for elaborating the meaning of QQ -- I ordered QQ noodles because I didn't know what it meant and now, looking back, I remember I was pleased with the texture of the noodles.

  10. Susan - I remember having a spicy beef noodle soup at Chilli Cool, a Sichuan restaurant, in Bloomsbury. Not sure if it's the same as the one you describe, as the soup wasn't as thick and it was red in colour. Otherwise, I'm firing blanks.

    PS: Having read your post on the noodles in Seattle, I'm envious!