Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Restaurant: 369 (三六九素食點心之家)

Address: 16 Yumin 1st road, Taipei (台北市裕民一路16號)
Telephone: 2821 4864
Open: 11:00am to 8pm
Average meal: NT$150
Details: Credit cards not accepted

By Diana Freundl  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Several vegetarian restaurants offer a variation of beef noodle soup, but 369 is arguably one of the best spots for a beefless version in Taipei.

PHOTO COURTESY OF 369

It's easy to find a restaurant selling beef noodle soup in Taipei, but it's not often one stumbles upon a vegetarian rendition some meat-lovers claim is better than the real thing.

Specializing in steamed buns, 369 (三六九素食點心之家) offers an assortment of vegetable baozi (包子), but it's their stewed (meatless) beef noodle soup that brings back the customers.

Restaurant owner and full-time cook, Chen Mei-jin, (陳美靜) said at least half of the restaurant's patrons are non-vegetarian, yet prefer to eat the meatless version as a healthier option and "because it tastes so good."

Most Chinese vegetarian restaurants offer some variation of the meat-based noodle dish, but few taste as good as Chen's. Made with pieces of tofu in a black pepper and soy sauce soup base, the stewed "beef" comes with a generous portion of thick homemade noodles and vegetables.

Chen said it's the spices she uses in her soup that keeps the popular winter time dish in high demand, even during the summer.

She inherited the recipe from her father-in-law who served up noodles and steamed buns in Taipei City for more than 40 years before passing on the business to his son.

Neither Chen's husband, nor his father, is a vegetarian. Being a practicing veggie herself, however, Chen decided to modify the meat dishes and open her 369 in Taipei's Beitou district 10 years ago.

The menu offers several vegetable- and tofu-based noodle dishes and soups in addition to dumplings of the glutinous rice variety. In the summer months, several of the hot noodle dishes are available cold and served with a tangy sauce.

The servings are large enough for lunch or a small dinner, but it would be a shame not to sample the steamed buns. Spicy tofu or bamboo are both good savory picks, while black sesame or peanut are tasty, yet tooth-achingly sweet choices.

There is nothing special about the restaurant's interior, furnished with two floors of folding tables and small stools to seat the crowds queuing up in the evening.

The no-frills service is fast and effective, and although there's no English menu, the front area is decorated with pictures of every available item and bustling with friendly staff willing to recommend dishes.

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