Chouji Noodle Shop is one of those unpretentious eating establishments that have survived through the decades unmoved by the world around them, serving simple old-school food in a no-nonsense environment. While it is a modern marketing mantra that a business must change to meet demand, Chouji’s reputation rests on its refusal to compromise.
Hidden in the depths of the Chengzhou Market (城中市場), located between Taipei Railway Station (台北火車站) and Ximending (西門町), not far from the Taiwan Province City God Temple on Wuchang Street (武昌街), Chouji has been doing business for over 30 years selling handmade noodles in a variety of sauces. From its ramshackle exterior kitchen and its dining area featuring stainless steel benches and tiled walls, you would never guess that it has had a brush with international fame — it was listed among the best “small eats” (小吃) establishments by Asiaweek magazine in 2000. Back then it was Chouji Noodle Shop’s beef noodles that impressed the magazine’s “intrepid gourmet,” but with summer coming, the restaurant’s cold spinach noodles (only made in limited quantities for the summer months), is the dish sought after by those in the know.
One of the best ways to savor these noodles is a dish of cold noodles with two sauces (雙醬涼麵, NT$80), which combines two toppings: majiang (麻醬), based on sesame paste and peanuts, and zhajiang (炸醬), an intensely flavored meat sauce, along with the usual mix of julienne cucumber and carrot. The correct ingredients, preparation, and flavor of both these toppings can get serious foodies into argument without end. Suffice it to say that both are of good quality, and provide an excellent base of flavor on which the qualities of Chouji’s handmade noodles shine.
Address: 12-5, Ln 80, Hankou St Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市漢口街一段80巷12之5號)
Telephone: (02) 2371-8008
Open: Monday to Saturday 11am to 7pm
Average meal: NT$200
Details: Chinese menu, no credit cards
Whether served cold and green or hot and flour colored, it is the hand-kneaded, hand-cut noodles that distinguish Chouji’s dishes from similarly named versions found at eateries across the country. They manage to be substantial without being heavy, and soft without being limp, a textural balancing act that has cemented the restaurant’s reputation. They are as suitable for fried dishes as they are for soupy dishes.
In the fried category, the shacha fried noodles with beef (沙茶牛肉炒麵, NT$90) are a popular option, while for soup noodles, this reviewer strongly recommends Chouji’s version of chiang guo noodles (熗鍋麵, NT$75), a mixture of meat and vegetables served in a broth based on the starchy water used to cook the noodles. This gives an almost creamy texture to the soup, which is lightened by the sweetness of the vegetables.
For those who want to beat the summer heat with an inner fire, the hot and spicy beef noodles (麻辣牛肉麵, NT$105) are delicious. The beef stock is light and the spiciness restrained. The dish can hold its own in a town where the preparation of beef noodles has been raised to a high art, but at Chouji, once again it is noodles, with their body and lightness of touch, which lift it above the crowd.
The side dishes on offer are mostly a selection of standards of no particular distinction, with the exception of the deep-fried eggs, which are spectacular. Seen on the counter, the halved eggs, char black and sitting in a shallow puddle of grayish oil, looked like the results of a kitchen disaster. They looked so bad I couldn’t resist placing an order, and discovered crisp and tender whites, fluffy yellow yolks and a hint of exotic spice, the constituents of which the staff declined to elaborate on.