I’ve always been big on offal. When I was a kid, offal-based dishes such as dinuguan (pork blood stew) and bopis (sautéed pork hearts, lungs, and liver) appeared on the dinner table on market-days. Pork skin would be dried in the sun for a few hours, then deep-fried in its own rendered fat to make chicharon that would be such a pleasure to snack on or added to soups and stews to add meaty depth and savour. Sisig, that unbeatable combination of pig’s ears, cheeks, and liver soured with vinegar and flavoured with garlic, is a joy to eat alongside a cold beer or over rice with fried eggs. And there’s callos – my mother’s Spanish tripe stew – as well as the Scots haggis I’ve grown to love over time. Yes, I’ve always been big on offal and my favourite kind was recently given a gloriously simple yet deliciously decadent spin at one of my favourite restaurants.
Luk Yuen has always been one of my family’s go-to noodle houses for decades, its noodles and congees consistently good and its spareribs with chicken feet always superb. Recently, though, Luk Yuen has been sprucing up its menu offerings with such things as braised beef buns, shrimp with cashews, and poached spinach with century eggs and glass noodles. But the most appealing dish among these new offerings has to be, in my personal opinion, the beef tendon over flat noodles.
Beef tendon on noodles is, really, nothing new in the Filipino-Chinese dining scene; virtually every noodle shop worthy of the name has some version of it, usually a soupy or a spicy one. The one served at Luk Yuen sits on the fence between dry/wok-fried and simmered in soup: braised beef tendons served on top of blanched flat wheat noodles, a brothy sort of sauce puddling underneath the lot.
Most versions of the dish I’ve had have featured tendons that were chewy on the outside and stringy within – or not cooked well enough to be bitten into sans the risk of breaking a tooth! But here, they are totally transformed from not-very-desirable offal into a beautifully decadent treat. The tendons are braised until meltingly tender: soft to the bite, dissolving into unctuous, almost creamy goodness in your mouth. These are pressure-cooked, I presume, in a broth made headily fragrant with anise, cassia bark, and a touch of shaoxing wine. The end result is deliciously meaty with a pleasant sweetness reminiscent of such classic braises as pata tim and three-cups chicken. Eaten with the noodles, it becomes a meal fit for a king – nay, an Emperor of old, if I may wax poetic! (Yes, they were that delicious!) It is certainly rich and would be in a fair way to be too rich, but that is where the faint scattering of scallions and a drizzle of sharp, sour kalamansi lime come in – to cut the gooey, creamy richness down to a more manageable level.
I would not recommend drinking anything sweet or alcoholic with this dish; that would really be too much. Water, alas, wouldn’t be enough to wash down the unctuousness. The best drink to pair with these tendons is good old-fashioned tea; you need the tannic character to add balance.