(88) Taiwan – Niu Rou Mian Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

Welcome back to The Messy Aprons, a place where you can travel by taste buds! Today we are heading to Taiwan to try a fiery dish.

Taipei, once home the tallest building in the world. Source: Architect Newspaper (Francisco Diez/Flickr)

Taiwan is situated in the East China Sea south of Japan and South Korea, East of China. It is slightly larger than Maryland/ half the size of Scotland. Only 3% of the population is native to the region, the vast majority being Chinese. Because of this a lot of their culture is influenced by the Chinese. Taiwan sits in the “ring of fire” which makes it very prone to earthquakes. There is controversy over the current status of Taiwan and depending on who you ask the answer could differ. As far as I know some see Taiwan is independent from China, others say they are a providence of China and also referred to as The Republic of China. Nonetheless Taiwan is a beautiful place with unique buildings, wildlife, and noteworthy cuisine.

Taiwanese cuisine as some may have guessed has heavy Chinese and Japanese influence filled with the savory flavors of soy sauce, sesame oil, cilantro, and chili peppers (to name a few). As most countries do they take advantage of local resources such as seafood which is the primary protein of their diet. Rice often is at the root of the meal. Today I made a spicy noodle soup known as niu rou mian.

The dish has roots in China, however it was brought from China to Taiwan by refugees that fled China after the Chinese Civil War. Prior to this beef was not eaten on the island due to lack of resources and it was once illegal to kill cattle in China. Taiwan even has a saying that roughly translates to “don’t eat beef and dog and prosperity follows; eat beef and dog and hell is inevitable.” 

So back to this dish.. this hearty yet spicy soup has a bone broth base (which was not included in this recipe- this cuts down the cook time) that gets its spice from several ingredients besides the chili bean sauce. Over time ingredients are added to form a savory soup that warms you inside and out. The recipe can be found here.

I did not have the rock sugar (substituted brown sugar) and I couldn’t snag chili bean paste in any of the local stores so I used leftover Thai chili sauce instead. This fast paced recipe over all had no mishaps, prepping ahead of time is always a way to prevent skipping steps as you go. Ian’s mouth was watering the whole time, he is a sucker for ramen-esque foods!

This was spicy enough to be noticeable, however the broth was insanely savory. The beef was nice and tender, but the bok choy should have chopped up finer. Like ramen eating this dish was a little tricky (we are not chop stick savvy) but found a big spoon helped us slurp it all down. We thought the dish was worthy of 8/10 average.

(74) Bhutan -Ema Datshi

The Tigers Nest. Source: The Global Grasshopper

Welcome to elevated Bhutan, a peaceful Buddhist-loving country that is high in the clouds. The country borders China and India and nestles in Himalayan Mountains. The name Bhutan actually translates to “land of the thunder dragon” because of the intense thunder storms in the mountainous country. One gorgeous hot spot in the country is The Tiger’s Nest which is a monetary situated on the side of a mountain over 900m up. It is the only country that bans the sale of tobacco products and until 11 years ago banned TV and internet! The world’s the tallest unclimbed mountain can also be found here, Gangkhar Puensum which is a staggering 24,840 feet tall.

Cuisine here is a bit unique compared to its surrounding countries due to its harsh climate and high elevation. Rice is a typical base of most meals which could contain meat, root vegetables, chilis, onions, and beans. The national dish of Bhutan is ema datshi which is the mixture of chilis and a Bhutanese cheese called datshi (which can be substituted with yak cheese). There are different varieties that include meat or other vegetables, however the base is the same. You can find this dish accompanying many meals due to its popularity. You can find the recipe here.

Going into this I knew it might be a little too simple so we decided to add some ground meat to it as well for more sustenance. I used a combination of feta and cheddar to fill in for the traditional cheese- I did search for yak cheese. The great thing about this meal is that it was quick and easy, definitely something you could whip up during the work week!

So we tried this dish with and without the beef to experience it as close to the original as possible.. without the beef we found the dairy elements kept the dish from being too spicy. With the meat we thought it helped complete the meal and overall the cheese mixed well with all the elements. It was simple but good, although I don’t know if I see myself making this again. Ian liked it a little more than me so we give it an averaged rating of 7.5/10.

With the meat..

(70) Laos – Khao Poon

Source: Grasshopper Adventures

Welcome back to Asia where we traveled to our 70th country Laos, the land of a million elephants (name translation). Laos is found in Southeast Asia cozied up next to Vietnam, Thailand, China, Burma, and Cambodia. Although this is a landlocked country you can explore the stunning Luang Prabang Mountain Range or the impressive Khon Phapheng Falls. Laos became independent from the French rule in 1953 so you can find its citizens speaking French of Lao. Laos is known for its Bhuddism, historic temples, and its spicy cuisine!

Laos cuisine often always includes sticky rice, their citizens being the largest consumers in the world averaging 345lbs consumed per person annually! Its cuisine is similar to Indian and Thai food in which their dishes are often full of spicy and rich flavors. The most popular and representative dish of Laos being larb; a salad like meal with ground meat herbs and veg sitting in a lime-fish sauce dressing. Today he make something a little different, but still very true to Laos- khao poon. This dish is a spicy soup with vermicelli, coconut milk, chicken, and several plant-based garnishes. Every khao poon is unique to its cook with several variations out there. You can find the recipe Ian used here.

Galangal is similar to ginger and turmeric and can be found in Southern Asia. I had to go online to find myself some but it was dried! This made for a tricky preparation..

Ian ended up modifying the spice because personally we don’t like our mouths to fry. He added a sweeter Asian sauce to the curry paste to make it spicy and sweet, more Messy Aprons friendly! We had fun plating this meal, the edible flowers bringing the dish to the next level!

Ian and I have been on a streak of above average dishes, this being one of them. We loved the heat and spice that was well balanced by the coconut milk. I appreciated the balance of vegetables to meat; when there is x2-3 more meat to veg most of the time I think it is too much (I know what an unpopular opinion). We rated this one 7.75/10.

(64) Turkmenistan – Dograma

The Capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat. Source: The Guardian (Photograph: Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

Greetings from Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country that can be found beside Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Caspian Sea. 70% of the country is made up of the Karakum desert- interestingly this same region was once underwater 30 million years ago! Partially due to the requirement of a specially obtained travel visa and inability to freely explore the country, Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world. Turkmenistan has one of the largest gas reserves in the world and you can find the attraction “The Door of Hell” (Darvaza Gas Crater) in the Darvaza region of this country. It is referred to hell because this methane gas field was set on fire in 1971 and has been burning ever since. Its capital, Ashgabat has broken several Guinness world records because of the large amount of marble buildings it contains… 543 to be exact!

The cuisine of Turkmenistan is similar to the surrounding countries, plov being the most common dish (which was made when we traveled to Uzbekistan). Melons are very popular in Turkmenistan, so popular that there is a holiday dedicated to them! Today I made a dish that is more traditional dish that is made during Gurbanlyk, which is a three day religious holiday that is celebrated by the Islamic community. Dograma is a dish consisting of torn flatbread, mutton/beef (I used beef), onions, tomatos, and a broth. A more simplistic meal.. or so I thought! The recipe is found here.

This dish gave me troubles and a lot of frustration. What I expected to be an hour-hour and a half of cooking quickly turned to 2.5 hours due to bread issues. I think part of the issue came form the conversion from grams to cups for the flour which led me to adding an additional 2 cups of flour for bread that didn’t bake as it should have. My parchment paper maxed out at 425 F and the correct conversion was 480 F which made for a longer baking time. Poor Ian came home to a grumpy Paige..

However after all the struggles it was surprisingly good. The bread absorbed the flavors of the broth and had decent flavor. If you let it sit too long it did get too mushy and unappetizing. I feel like the onions would have been better sautéed and would have added another layer of flavor. Although it was better than expected it still got an average rating of 6/10.

Vietnamese Coffee Flan

Once again I have a bonus recipe for you! I couldn’t help myself when I saw this coffee flan recipe and thought I NEEDED it in my life.. you might want it in your life too 😉

Vietnamese flan as you could have easily guessed is a French-inspired dish that came to be from French colonization. The true origin is from the Roman Empire due to their domestication of the chicken and conquering most of Europe. Using methods that the Greeks used, they adopted egg baking techniques in order to create the first flan.

France and Spain were two main countries that cherished their flan and added their own signature to the dish. The French refer to their flan as crème caramel and prefer to only use milk over cream with their preparation. In Spain, flado (or flat cake) was very popular and they were the first to add the caramel sauce to the base. The first flado dates back to medieval times when large quantities of eggs and dairy was combined together to make a custard. From Spain it traveled to Mexico, where they created the several variations of flan- coffee, coconut, and chocolate (to name a few).

So you will need to be patient for this one.. as tempting as it is to try it early it’s very important to let it set in the fridge to chill for the recommended 8 hours to insure it has set properly and fully cooled. I found this recipe to make my flan

We really enjoyed this one, however I was unable to get it to flip over and have the caramel running down the sides like the pictures you typically see (I had to cut slices 😅). The instant coffee was a nice and simple way to infuse the flavor into the flan making it taste similar to a coffee ice cream (so yummy!). This is another recipe I could see myself making in the future and share with others that have never had the decadent flan.

Off to Grenada for our next recipe, see you there!

Vietnam Day 4 – Caramel Shaking Beef and Asian Cucumber Salad

Hey guys welcome to our final Vietnamese entrée. Today I made shaking beef with an Asian cucumber salad. Shaking beef is a traditional meal that also has French influence. It can be mixed with various vegetables or without like this rendition. I followed Jet Tila’s cookbook 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die to make this super simple yet incredibly delicious dish. Another great thing about both the salad and beef is that there were minimal ingredients required and it was done in less than 30 minutes! That is my kind of meal!

You can find the recipe for the cucumber salad here.

It is key to cut the beef thin and not to skimp on the garlic (but that goes without saying). Once your wok/fry pan is hot you “shake” the pan to constantly mix and cook the meat. Jet suggested serving the meat with a slice of baguette or French bread to absorb the juices of the meat.. we listed and boy was he on the money there!

This was the tastiest and ironically the simplest out of the bunch we made for Vietnam. The meat was very savory and tender. The cucumber salad was very refreshing and actually paired well with the meat. The bread soaked up of the liquid goodness on the plate and left us craving more. This meal proves that you don’t need all the fancy gadgets or ingredients to make an amazing meal. We thought it was worthy of a 9/10!

Next week we travel to the tropical Grenada to serve up a highly rated meal.

Vietnam Day 3 – Bánh Xèo

I have been very excited to try this dish. I have watched several videos and feel ready to tackle it. I am concerned I won’t get the right crispy texture of the crepe, but time will tell.

Hailing from central Vietnam these fancy crepes are usually filled with prawns and pork along with various vegetables. To make the crepe you use a combination of rice flour, turmeric powder, and water. Bánh xèo literally translates to “sizzling cake” which is what you should hear as it is cooking in the pan. As it cooks you add in your filling and once it gets to the desired crispiness you fold it over and serve it with greens, herbs, and a dipping sauce.

Unfortunately we did not hear the sizzle that was expected and after SEVERAL attempts to change the batter consistency and remake the batter with my gluten free flour we could not make this special masterpiece. What we had created was more soft and chewy textured “thing” that was hints of turmeric flavor. We could not fold our crepe because it wanted to break and tried it as an open faced dish. Disappointed and extremely frustrated I picked at our final result not enjoying the textures I was experiencing in my mouth. So it is safe to say this was another failed recipe that we will remake in the future with hopefully more success. I will not share the recipe I had gone by because who knows maybe it was poor interpretation of the instructions. Let us know if you have a go-to recipe that is bullet proof for us to try.

It is safe to say our next recipe was extremely successful and delicious! Stay tuned my faithful foodies

Vietnam Day 2 – Bún Bò Xả Ớt

On our second day in Vietnam we made another traditional dish known as bún bò xả ot. This dish translates to beef with lemongrass and chili and is refreshing to eat in the heat of the summer. I opted to try some pork I had bought since I would be using beef another time this week. The recipe Ian followed can be found here.

Ian thought the dish was straightforward and an easy one to make during the week. He substituted crushed red pepper flakes instead of the chilis since we could not buy fresh ones at the store. He felt the amount of salt that was asked for made the cucumbers a little too salty.

We thought this dish was delicious! There was a strong presence of ginger and lemongrass with every bite which was well-balanced by the cucumber. The light fish broth was very good and helped keep the dish from being too spicy. It was a hair too salty for us (which is saying something coming from Ian!) but overall had good flavor and was a unique dish.

We rated it 7.5/10, it might have been higher with beef but I doubt it. Next we will attempt to make the Vietnamese crepe banh xeo.. to find out if we were successful or not stay tuned!

(58) Nepal – Dal Bhat

Mountain Sinai. Source: Gadsventure

Today we travel back to Southern Asia to the country of Nepal. These country is situated mostly in the Himalayan mountains (home to Mount Everest) bordered by China, India, and Bhutan. Due to its location in a harsh environment it is considered one of the least developed countries in the world. Nepal is known to honor their cows due to Hindu religion (one of the most popular religions of Nepal) which means they will not kill their cows even when they stop providing milk. At that time cows are released and the community will care for the free cows. How cute!

Cuisine of Nepal can be broken up into regions and understandably has strong Asian influence. Such regions are Himilayan, Newars, Khas, Lohorung, and Terai. Each have specific dishes and cooking preparation methods that are unique to the region (with some overlap). Today’s dish dal bhat is a lentil curry, sometimes soup-like in consistency, that is eaten throughout the country and neighboring China and India. Traditionally it is served over rice and is vegetarian or vegan dependent on the oil used for cooking. It’s served at the 17,000 ft base camp on Mount Everest to fuel the brave hikers on their journey to/from the summit. The recipe I followed can be found here.

This meal was super-duper easy and healthy. I don’t cook with lentils often, but I was intrigued by the mix of spices (which I admit did not measure out when preparing). Additionally it has few ingredients and is inexpensive to make. Have I caught your attention now?

We enjoyed this meal and the blend of spice giving a mild heat to the dish. The lime and cilantro helped balance the heat. It was by far the best lentil dish we have ever had. Ian felt that adding salsa would have made it better, but what doesn’t salsa make better? We rated this dish 7.25/10 and recommend it to anyone who has never had lentils before or enjoy the flavors of cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Let us know what you think by dropping a comment below!

(56) Singapore – Chili Prawns

The majestic merlion of Singapore. Source: Travel Awaits

Hey guys, we are in Singapore! This beautiful country borders Western Malaysia and is guarded by the mythical merlion (seen above). This figure came to life from the combination of its previous name Singapura (lion city in Malay) and honoring the the past, modest fishing village that the country started as (hence lion head and fish body). Singapore is known for its ban on chewing gum, affordable street food, and its summer-like weather year round (it is situated near the equator).

No that isn’t guacamole, I could only find green chilis

For a smaller country Singapore is well-known for its incredible cuisine, especially seafood. Rice, noodles, and other meats are also found in many of its dishes, but today we pay tribute to seafood. I was originally going to make the very popular chili crab, but I couldn’t buy any crab locally.. only crab meat for crab cakes and that wasn’t going to cover it. So the next best thing was chili prawns (or shrimp).

The dish consists of a sweet and spicy chili sauce that simmers prior to the addition of the seafood of choice. At the end a beaten egg is mixed in briefly and the dish is removed from heat to serve over rice or noodles. Luckily I had some leftover coconut rice which paired wonderfully! This dish is so good that it’s mentioned in the top 50 best dishes on CNN. The recipe can be found here.

So we loved it, obviously. It was sweet with a mild heat, the ginger and garlic coming through well. The egg made the sauce creamy and delightful, just make sure not to let it sit too long so the egg doesn’t fry. Our only suggestion would have been some vegetables added to the mix to complete the meal. We absolutely loved it and will be making it in the future! It was rated 8.5/10.