(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.

(82) Portugal – Caldo Verde Soup

Lisbon, Portugal. Source: Everything Overseas

Portugal, a southern European country is found on the Iberian Peninsula. It neighbors Spain and the Atlantic Ocean making it a hot surf spot. It is one of the oldest countries of Europe dating back to 1200 BC and is home to the oldest library in the capital Lisbon. Portugal is a large producer of Port Wine and cork (makes sense), one of the largest in the world! Other than surfing you can explore historical sites and take in the breath-taking views.

From Portuguese travel they developed a distinguished cuisine full of flavors from around the globe. The cuisine of Portugal is influenced by the spice trade of Asia, flavors and seasonings Europe, Africa, and South America. Some of the food comes from the region of Portugal with utilization of the Atlantic waters for fresh seafood. Kale, chicken, sausage, rice, cod, sardines, and olives are some of the more common ingredients found in Portuguese cooking, some of which are in this dish. Today I prepared caldo verde soup which is a hearty combination of chouriço sausage, kale, beans, and veggies. As you can see I substituted chorizo instead (no downfall there). The recipe can be found here.

Come to find out my chorizo would break apart into tiny bits once I added it to the stew. I would say that was the only downfall to the meal. It was pretty simple to follow the recipe and didn’t take too long to make. Just look at those colors!

We thought this soup had a nice balance of spicy and citrus flavors. The lemon zest definitely paired well with the creaminess of the broth. I loved the nice variety of veggies and overall thought the soup was hearty and savory. You could also do without the sausage and still have a wonderful meal. We would make this one again and rated it 8.25/10!

(68) Barbados – Bajan Chicken and Dumpling Soup

Source: Pinterest

Barbados is a beautiful Caribbean island that sits close to St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It gained independence in 1966 from England and is roughly 2.5 x the size of Washington D.C. Like other tropical islands it has its own sandy white beaches and dense rainforests that are vacation worthy. Its largest exports are rum, sugar, and molasses.

The cuisine of Barbados consists of marinated meats such as seafood, pork or chicken, and native vegetables and fruits. You can find a combination of English, Portuguese, and French cuisine influences here, however they like to but their own twist to it. The national dish is cou-cou (native fungus) and flying fish (native fish) which I obviously can’t try, but I found a soup recipe that seems to be pretty popular on the island.. chicken and dumpling soup. I made The Foot Mashup‘s version of this classic dish which has spiced oatmeal dumplings in a soup filled with squash, chicken and various potatoes and veggies. This kind of soup can be found throughout the Caribbean and is a typical comfort meal on the weekends.

The preparation was to be expected for a soup and involved plenty of time to wash, peel, cut and cook all the vegetables/chicken. The dumpling formation was a little tricky (and not as neat as the post) however I got the little suckers to stay clumped together. If you just follow the directions it is pretty straight forward to make. I was very tempted to add additional spices into the broth since this soup screams fall time to me.. I restrained myself.

One hack to save myself time was to cook the split peas in the Instant Pot for 15 minutes and have a 15 minute release. The water to pea ratio is 3:1 cups.

This was the first time I had dumplings in a soup and I was impressed. Of course we loved the spice that the dumplings brought, I couldn’t help but think of the autumn. As nice as the dumplings tasted, we thought it was a new and weird texture. The soup was good, but nothing out of the ordinary other than it had a whole lot of potatoes. I think if there was more herbs, spices, and maybe more contrasting textures the soup would have been rated higher. We thought it deserved 7/10.

(62) Grenada – Chicken Stew

We are back in the Caribbean visiting the islands of Grenada. Grenada is made up of one larger, main island and surrounding smaller islands. It is also known as the “spice isle” due to the abundance of spice plantations on the main island. Some of these spices include allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Nutmeg is the most abundant here and is even featured on the country’s flag. Rum is another famous export of this mighty Caribbean country, that being said it is safe to say they know how to make a mean fruity rum drink (my drink of choice). This country is additionally known for its stunning beaches, beautiful botanical gardens, and refreshing waterfalls.

Source: Sandals.com (carma sumral/Shutterstock.com)

The cuisine of Grenada as one might expect is full of spice and local produce. Seafood and various farmed meats are often included in meals as well. The national dish of Grenada is oil down, a very ambitious and traditional dish that includes several ingredients I couldn’t get my hands on such as breadfruit, pig tails, and taro leaves. I opted out to make a chicken stew inspired by a traveler’s visit where they ate this in a Grenadian’s home. The recipe can be found here.

The meal was pretty straight forward and allowed for me to multitask while it simmered away. It’s great to have those meals where you just throw all the ingredients together in a pot and voila you’ve got a meal! I had a difficulty time removing the skins fully from the thighs, but I feel it gives the broth a little more flavor.

YAY another amazing dish! This meal was insanely savory, delicious, and well-seasoned. There was a nice sweetness coming through with the ketchup and caramel. Although my dish came out a little more stew-like than the recipe it allowed us to appreciate a spicy and comforting broth that is by far the best broth I have ever had! Of course the chicken was fall off the bone tender and melted in your mouth.

We highly recommend this dish and rate it 9/10. We hope you try this one and let us know how it goes!

Greece Day 2 – Soupa Avgolemono

Welcome to another day in Greece, today we will be making a refreshingly light soup that is great on a warm summer day or when you need a pick me up. This dish is dominated by the taste of lemon and dill.

This citrusy soup is a lesser known Greek classic and is believed to have made its way there with the Sephardic Jews. This ethnic group originating from the Iberian Peninsula has a cuisine that consists of stuffed vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts, herbs, lentils and chickpeas (to name a few). It was originally made with pomegranate or orange juice, but with the popularization of lemon juice in the 10th century it is now the preferred fruit juice.

Ian felt this recipe was straight forward, however there was a crucial part that you want to pay attention to. It was important to whisk the hot broth and egg/lemon juice mixture constantly to avoid cooking the egg. It is also the same method when adding it back into the remaining soup.

We thought the soup was unique compared to others we have made and enjoyed how the lemon and dill made it lighter and refreshing. We would have liked more rice than what was asked for since a 1/4 cup was not much.

If you prefer fish over chicken, a similar recipe we have cooked in the past called Lohikeitto might be the soup for you!

We did enjoy the Finnish lemon and dill soup a little more than this one. The rating we gave it was 7/10.

(47) Panama – Sancocho

Hello from the isthmus that connects South and Central America- Panama! This country gives you the unique opportunity to watch the sunrise over the Pacific and sunset over the Atlantic. Panama City the capital of Panama (pictured below) is the only city in the world that has a rain forest within city limits. The famous Panama canal generates one third of the countries economy and roughly 14,000 ships travel through each year. The toll each ship pays is dependent on their size, the larger ships paying almost half a million dollars- ouch!

Panama City Beach. Source: Fishingbooker.com

Typical cuisine in Panama is comprised of African, Native American, and Spanish methods. Due to the location of Panama it has access to several varieties of produce, yucca (cassava root) and plantains being the most commonly used.

Today we made a traditional soup filled with various veggies and chicken. Sancocho is a common Latin soup that is full of native flavors and was fairly easy to make. It contained yucca which was a new food for us to try. Yucca is very starchy and has a thick skin that is best peeled off similar to if you were preparing a plantain. Depending on where you are this recipe could vary. It is also said this soup can cure hangovers.. we have not tested this theory, but maybe you could let us know if it is true? 😉

Like most soups once you had the ingredients prepped it just needed time to cook and allow for the flavors to merge together. We loved the use of cilantro in the soup and like many other meals felt it brightened it up. The yucca and plantain were alike in flavor, closely resembling russet potatoes, however yucca had a slight squash-like similarity while the plantain had a mild sweetness. We thought there wasn’t enough balance between the starchy foods and other ingredients and decided to rate it 6.5/10.

Next, we visit a country I have never heard of before over and recently gained its independence in 1999. Tune in tomorrow to find out how it went!

(38) Moldova – Zeamă

Hello again! Today we are in Moldova, a small Eastern European country that is well known for its extensive wine collections (Guiness World record actually). Moldova does not get a lot of foreign foot traffic since it is a more impoverished country, however there is more than what meets the eye! There are beautiful old monasteries that can be found throughout the cities and admirable country sides and forests. Moldovans love wine (and other booze) so much that they dedicate two days to wine in October as a National holiday. Sign me up!

Monasteries of Moldova. Source: Private-guides.com

I was originally going to make the national dish of Moldova which is mămăligă, but I decided the zeamă would suffice. Zeamă is like a chicken noodle soup with a European twist. This dish is very traditional in this country and served year round, even in hot weather. This soup is a sign of welcoming or celebration the morning before a wedding. It even pairs well with wine.. who would have thought! The recipe I referenced can be found here.

I did make some substitutions since lovage and borsch couldn’t be found in my local grocery store. I used celery salt and lemon juice as replacements and enjoyed the flavors they brought to the dish. I also substituted store bought egg noodles for homemade ones to save myself time.

It was pretty easy to make and took advantage of the perfect opportunity to use some of my dehydrated carrots I made up last year, they taste just as fresh! I also added tons of herbs- more than the suggested to bring out more flavors in the simple broth.

I let a cut jalapeno soak in the soup which did give a very mild heat to the soup which was nice. The lemon and dill combo will always rate high in our book, however I wish there was more flavor. I’m wondering if I had the recommended ingredients if it would have more gusto.

Due to this we rated it a little lower at 6/10 average.. sorry Moldova😔

(32) Vanuatu – Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Spicy Shrimp

Port Vila, Vanuatu. Source: SPREP.org

Welcome back! Today we are in the tropical Vanuatu, a country made up of 83 islands in the South Pacific Ocean near Australia. Bungee jumping was first done here when brave boys and men would jump from 20-30m (60-90ft) with vines tied to their ankles off wooden towers as part of a ritual called Nanggol. I think I’ll pass on that one!

The Vanuatuan cuisine consists main ingredients such as mangos, bananas, taro, yam, coconut, and seafood. You can find chickens and pigs used as a meat source, however seafood is primarily used. With that being said today’s dish screams Vanuatu!

I ended up finding a wonderful recipe that consisted of seasoned shrimp on top of a shredded spinach which sits in a sweet potato and coconut soup, yum yum!

Their national dish lap lap did not seem possible for me to attempt which is the product of pounded taro root paste which is layered with cabbage and meat wrapped in a banana leaf.. something tells me this would only taste good if eating it local.

All in all we appreciated the sweetness from the coconut and sweet potato and slight kick of chili powder (did not have cayenne). The shrimp was seasoned perfectly and had a bit of a crunch to it. The additional of spinach brought a freshness to the dish. We ended up rating it 7.25/10!

(20) Finland – Lohikeitto

Finland is a northern European country and it’s known for more than just polar plunges and saunas. Recently Finland has been repeatedly rated as the happiest country in the world. We think it may have something to do with this soup!

Helsinki Finland Tech
Finland’s capital Helsinki. Credit www.pymnts.com

Lohikeitto is a traditional Finnish salmon soup that is packed full of flavor. This soup reminded me a lot of the Greek Avgolemono soup. It was creamy and hearty, but not too heavy. Enough rambling, here is how simple this recipe is.

Start by sautéing the sliced leek in butter.

Add fish stock or water to the leeks once they become translucent. Bring this to a boil and add potatoes and carrots. Once the potatoes are almost fully cooked add your salmon and heavy cream.

Finally, the addition of fresh dill transforms the dish into something more bright and refreshing. You can find the recipe here.

In nontraditional fashion I chose to add a splash of lemon juice, because I love how it compliments fish.

There is no doubt we will be making this soup again. Simple and delicious!

Score 8/10

(10) The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire/ Ivory Coast- Velouté d’Ignames

Welcome back! The last dish of this week will be reining from another African country- The Ivory Coast. As some of you might have noticed the Ivory Coast also has a French name Côte d’Ivoire (coast of ivory) which is the official name of the country. This country was named by the French due to its’ significant history of ivory trade. It is home to 9 national parks, the largest being Assagny. Unfortunately due to this countries history the once booming population of elephants is now at its all time low. The country is trying to actively protect its’ elephants and hopefully will be successful..

Elephants roaming Assagny National Park. Source: Worldtravelcafe.com

So you are probably wondering by now what I am making for this week.. Velouté d’Ignames or cream of yam soup, is commonly made in this country due to the abundance of yams. Yams are adored here so much that there is an annual festival celebrating that years harvest. This soup showcases the excellence of the native tuber, but once again I could not get my hands on yams. I was able to substitute them with russet potatoes since they are the most similar. Yams are thought to be closely related to the sweet potato since their names get interchanged often, but the African yam is more comparable to the russet since they are dry and starchy.

Source: Cookery Nation

The is very simple, like most African cuisine, but it has an admirable flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy simple recipes since the majority of the time I prepare these recipes during the week when I have less motivation and energy! The recipe I used to recreate this dish can be found here.

The soup had wonderful flavor and it made me think of what might be used as a base for a seafood chowder (I did save leftover soup for this purpose). It was another simple, but delicious recipe. I would have liked a little more ingredients to enhance its’ flavor. We rated it 6/10.

That concludes our first month of cooking around the globe, I hope you are enjoying it as much as we have! We start off February in Japan for one week trying traditional dishes such as ramen to onigiri! Talk to you soon! 😸

We have some abstract garnish for this dish