One Small Bowl is a family restaurant that has established itself on the culinary map of Hualien as a place for visiting foodies to check out. Its appeal is primarily in its simplicity, which derives from a philosophy of frugal, but aesthetically aware, living. The decor is self-consciously rustic, its seating limited, but it is most readily noticed because of the people waiting outside for a table.
The restaurant, which originally only served beef and lamb noodles in a clear broth has expanded its menu and now includes a red cooked broth version (紅燒), and added the choice of vermicelli, thin wheat noodles, and momo (饃饃), an unleavened bun much used in northern and central China, to the original lamian (拉麵) noodles. It has also added the option of a small and a large bowl. But this is as far as diversity goes.
Many food bloggers have commented on how very small the small bowl of noodles is, particularly given its relatively high price. A small bowl of lamb with lamian noodles, whether in a clear or red broth, sells for NT$95, the large bowl for NT$125. The bowls themselves are attractive, and a big step up from your usual neighborhood beef noodle stall, and the utensils of high quality. But this clearly has not been enough to distract from the rather paltry servings.
According to the pamphlet about the restaurant available at the counter, the size of the portion is part of the philosophy of frugality that the owner embraces. “We should only eat until we are three-quarters full,” he is quoted as saying, adding that he expanded the menu to include a large bowl, conceding that people had different standards for what constitutes three-quarters full.
Although the bowl of noodles does not impress by its size, or the variety of its contents, the presentation is clean and has a simple elegance. Tucking into the contents, it is immediately evident that care has gone into the preparation. The beef noodles are very different from the over-processed (though often quite tasty) versions that dominate the lower end of the beef noodle market, a fact that is most evident in the very high quality of the clear broth, which is meaty and deep, full of flavor but still light on the palate.
The lamian noodles I tasted were definitely above average, but nothing to write home about, and I found the beef itself a tad dry. The lamb on the other hand was moist and flavorful, full of taste but without any mustiness.
Momo are not often found in Taiwan, but are an ideal accompaniment for meat soups, and the lamb noodles with momo in a clear broth (NT$105 for a small bowl) was delicious and much more filling than its size would suggest. The dry momo can be dunked in the soup (rather like tea biscuits) to just the degree of wetness before being eaten, or it can be left in the soup to become soft, thickening the liquid and becoming something akin to dumplings.
Side dishes are of high quality, though again, some may balk at the relatively high price. A plate of blanched sweet potato leaves is NT$40, but was once again prepared and dressed with a care that lifted it above the average standard of a beef noodle store.
Traditional-style black sugar dumplings (古早味黑糖粉圓, NT$25) are the only choice of sweet, but once again, by focusing on just one dish, One Small Bowl has ensured a high standard of preparation, and this dish is often sold out.
All the food has a homemade quality with a clear emphasis on not over-seasoning for effect, and keeping the dishes simple and healthful. You might not come away from One Small Bowl with a sense of glorious surfeit, but the care that has gone into the preparation should engender a sense of satisfaction, and the mood of the establishment is very much in keeping with the back-to-nature image that Hualien tries to project.