Swatow Beef Kway Teow Soup


Like the vast majority of Chinese cooks, those in Teoswa love pork and cook with it as their default meat. But there are some notable exceptions. Teoswa hotpot, now wildly popular throughout the Middle Kingdom, is a thoroughly bovine affair. The meal is a celebration of the entire cow, from the muscle cuts, to the offal, and even to the cartilage and fat (the best, most flavorful fat is said to come from the chest). 

Teoswa diners are extremely picky about the beef that goes into their hotpot. Utmost freshness is required — no dry aging or flash-freezing allowed. Just-slaughtered cattle arrive in hotpot restaurants in the morning, are broken down into individual cuts in view of the dining room, and then thinly sliced to order for hungry patrons. The soup used for Teoswa hotpot is a clean-tasting beef bone broth that — as with most hotpots — develops more flavor as more beef is cooked in it throughout the meal. But beef hotpot is not just a meal. It’s an indulgent event that requires a substantial time commitment for maximum enjoyment. 

What about a beefy counterpart for quick, everyday sustenance? Specialists in beef kway teow (rice noodle) soup provide a popular solution. Everyone from students to office workers to neighborhood elders stop by the shops lining the Swatow streets for bowls of satisfying, comforting kway teow soup topped with thin slices of beef and bouncy beef balls. As with beef hotpot, a clean, straightforward broth — made from raw, unroasted bones, unlike most Western beef broths — is key. 

This broth can be made in advance; the noodles and toppings then come together very quickly when it’s time to eat. Let the broth simmer away on the stove when you have a free afternoon. Chill it overnight, then scrape off the top layer of fat the next day. At this point, you can freeze some broth for later, or use it all right away. A last-minute addition of grated galangal adds a spicy, piney fragrance; a scattering of chopped Chinese celery lends some freshness and crunch. 

Serves 4

  • 3 lbs meaty beef bones*
  • 2 lbs fresh rice noodles
  • 2 tsp+ salt
  • 2 tsp galangal, grated†
  • 1/2 cup Chinese celery, minced
  • a few leaves romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 8 Asian beef balls
  • 1/2 lb lean beef, thinly sliced‡
  • spoonful satay sauce

* For best results, combine bones like beef shin or knuckles with meatier cuts, such as bone-in short rib.

† Can substitute ginger if galangal is not available.

‡ Pre-sliced beef for hotpot or sukiyaki is perfect for this.

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Blanch meaty beef bones for 10 minutes to remove impurities. Discard water and rinse beef. Return to pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 6 hours. Remove from heat and refrigerate at least overnight and up to 3 days.
  2. Scrape congealed fat off top of broth. Return broth to stove and bring to a boil with 2 tsp salt. Meanwhile, bring another pot of plain water to a boil. Separate fresh rice noodles gently with your hands. Cook separated noodles in boiling water for a minute, then drain and divide between 4 bowls. Top with Chinese celery and romaine lettuce.
  3. Once broth boils, add beef balls, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes. Add thinly sliced beef to the pot and turn off heat. Taste soup and add more salt if needed. Divide beef balls, beef slices, and broth between bowls. Add a dab of grated galangal to each bowl. Serve with satay sauce for the beef slices.
NoodlesDiana Zheng