A noodle joint elevates good old beef noodles with hand-cut meat and 12-hour broths.
*Featured in Crave’s July 2016 issue
Text by Tiffany Chan, photos by Samantha Sin
There is something therapeutic about a good bowl of beef noodles: fall-apart tender meat and firm, springy noodles steeped in deeply savoury, collagen-rich broth. This is humble, everyday comfort food, but on a miserable day, beef noodles can warm the soul. As partner Creash Wong understands very well.
Two years ago, he and his two partners opened beef specialist Ngau Saam Gun and Jiu Saam Gun, the bar attached to it. Riding on this success, Wong was ready for the next logical step: beef noodles joint Min Saam Gun (min means noodles in Cantonese).
Hand-cut beef – taken from castrated yellow cattle from Shaanxi – is delivered daily from Sam Cheong butcher. Next, Wong went hunting for perfect noodles, sampling more than 50 different varieties before settling on egg noodles from a century-old Taiwanese noodle factory.
“When we found this one, we knew it was just right: just thick enough to absorb beef stock, but not so thick it feels heavy; just springy enough for a nice bite, not so firm you have trouble cutting it with your teeth,” he says.
The other essential ingredient is beef bones, using 100 jin (50kg) for every 250 bowls of noodles. The bones are simmered for 12 hours and added in three batches, four hours apart: the first batch for collagen, the second for flavour, and the last for sweetness.
“Making deeply flavourful and complex stock is a process,” Wong says. “It takes more than dumping a whole lot of bones and leaving it to simmer overnight. In fact, adding all the bones at once is a mistake. You lose the sweetness when the bones have been simmered for half a day. There is a method to it that is often neglected.”
The menu is straightforward, listing fewer than 20 types of soup and dried noodles. Like a ramen joint, diners can choose noodle firmness, richness of broth and extra condiments. With its most expensive bowl costing $158, comfort doesn’t come cheap. Especially compared with local noodle joints, which charge less than $50 a bowl. But Wong says the price reflects the quality of the ingredients.
“If only you knew what kind of meat dai pai dongs use in their noodles. You get what you pay for, right?”
1. Supreme Hand-cut Beef Noodles
The most expensive item on the menu is differentiated from less supreme versions by the cuts of beef used: shoulder blade and rump. The blade is lean, but with a rich beefy flavour. The rump is less tender, but just as flavourful. Given a choice of black (stock with soy and salt) and white (stock with salt) broth, we chose the former. The cloudy broth was dark, rich and laced with underlying sweetness from the soy. Slurped with the springy noodles, it was delicious.
2. Fresh Hand-cut Beef Noodles
Natural-fed 29-month-old Ishigaki beef from Okinawa Yaeyama is slow-cooked for three hours, then quickly heated on the teppan. Glistening and visibly crisp on the outside, it has a tender and juicy interior and the mouthfeel is divine. A pinch of Okinawa sea salt and aromatic Shizuoka wasabi further unfolds the beef flavour. Don’t neglect the humble tomato sitting discreetly on the corner of the plate, it is slow-cooked to perfection and is a marvelous finish.
3. Black Soy Sauce Beef Offal Dried Noodles
The noodles are served with homemade marinated beef offal – stomach, intestines, brisket and tendon – and a carafe of dark soy for lubrication. Although the type and portion of the noodles is the same as that of the soup noodles, it was much more filling, given the thickness of the noodles and lack of liquid to slurp it all up. But we found adding the marinade directly to the noodles further concentrated the flavours, so every bite carried the intensity of the soy and spices.
4. Milkfish Sausage
We don’t eat much milkfish in Hong Kong, but it is common in Taiwan in dishes such as milk fish soup and milk fish balls. So it’s no surprise that Wong sources his milk fish sausage from a Taiwanese supplier. The sausage arrives nicely blistered and crisp on the outside, and the meat is rather sweet – often too sweet for Hong Kong tastes, Wong says. The sausage was aromatic with a nice bite, and rather addictive. We could snack on it all day.
5. Pork Knuckle with Black Bean
This dish’s Cantonese name literally translates as “melting bones and cotton hands”. True to its name, the pork knuckle melts in the mouth. The gelatinous pork is so exceptionally tender that we hardly had to use our teeth. As the meat melts away, the fattiness of the pork coats the mouth, leaving only small chunks of bones. The tenderness is achieved by braising the knuckle in black beans for four to six hours.
Min Saam Gun
43 Gough Street, Central
Tel: 2388 6982