Winter is the season when most people give up sucking in their stomachs, pretending to have abs while strolling down the beach. It’s the season when people are five times more likely to give in to that slice of cake sitting in front of them. Maybe the whole cake. For me, it’s the season I begin hunting for a perfect, hearty bowl of soup.
There’s nothing quite like it to warm up the body and soul on a cold day. When abs are no longer priority #1, I let laksa, ramen and hot stews take over. For that reason, I most welcome Taiwan Soul Food to the fold.
Newly opened in late March/early April this year, this new kid on the block is making waves with its herby, robust broth. Oh, did I mention the eighty+ ingredients you can customise to your liking? Read on!
Date Last Visited: 20/4/15
Address: 710-722 George St Haymarket, NSW 2000
Recommended Dish(es): you have got to go nuts here.
Taiwan Soul Food is located on George Street, the next block down after World Square (towards Central). The decor is such that the store has no windows from both front and side, making for a highly visible frontage. Couple that with the splashes of red makes a storefront that’s hard to miss.
My first visit was during the second week of opening on April 13, when queues were still strong. I really mean that, we were at least 20 deep, and boy, did it move slowly. That did however, give us ample time to suss out the joint and see how it all works.
Now, when I say over eighty ingredients, I mean what I say. There’s a huge selection of goods ranging from noodles, to frozen goods, to mochi, to crab sticks, to fish balls, to greens. You name it, they’ll have something that’s no more than twice-removed from what you want.
But wait, how exactly do you order here and what exactly are you getting? Answer: a bowl of soup, with any number of ingredients you choose to select, cooked by the soup. Think of it as a mini, one-time, personal hot pot. There is only one type of soup, and thus cannot be customised, aside from the amount you want (half full? No soup? All of the soup?) and the amount of chilli you wish to be included. The perfect winter’s treat!
Familiarise yourself with the order form pictures below, and I’ll walk you through the process.
It works like this:
- Grab a pencil (provided by the restaurant)
- Tick within each black highlighted section what you want, up to the limit specified. You can go above or below the limit, but then you don’t take advantage of the “Any X for $Y” pricing model, and instead will be paying per piece, which is a fair bit more expensive.Pricing does stack. One tick = one of the item. e.g. if you tick #16 chicken heart, you will get one chicken heart. You can specify a number instead if you wish, as long as the total number of items works out in your favour, price-wise. Worked example:
- I tick #1, #5, #14 and #16. As this makes four items under the “any 4 for $2” section, my bowl will now cost $2.
- Say I want more, and tick #25, #30 and #37 – that’s “any 3 for $3”, so now my bowl is $2+$3=$5.
- I now want noodles, say #41: that’ll be $2 more, making my bowl $7
- On the back side, I can tick many more things, which can really drive the price up
- Hand the order form in and pay
Given that there are nine sections that you can potentially fill out, this can get very, very confusing or at least, cause a massive indecision attack. I can feel ya, I mean just look at the below:
The chaos of choice, indeed. How do I personally do it? I order from the $2 and $3 section, plus a fill of noodles, for a total bowl cost of $7. I have tried the “gourmet” option of $7 beef and pork (they are actually quite delicious), but it’s my opinion that such an order drastically increases the price to a point that no longer makes Taiwan Soul Food the cheap eat it ought to be. At $2, it’s a bargain. At $7, it’s OK. At $15+? It’s asking for a lot for something that’s snack-sized.
If you plan to make a meal out of this place, I’d recommend going for two bowls. One honestly isn’t enough. That said, this can also be a blessing if you just want to try Taiwan Soul Food out, rather than fill up on it. The beauty of the system is that it can be as cheap as chips, or as expensive as you like it. The choice is (confusingly) yours.
If it’s so difficult for an order to be filled out, how arduous must it be for the staff?
Quite the laborious challenge, it would seem. Our waitress took minutes to get our order sorted out. Each item and quantity is punched in manually, and mistakes have to be similarly corrected in manual fashion. How cool would it be if they used a digital scanner, like how our university multiple choice papers are marked? This would explain why our queue moved so slowly. It was glacial.
Unfortunately, they also did not get our order correct. With a possible 80+ ingredients to choose from, this was almost inevitable and to an extent, understandable. It’s early days to be sure, but these hiccups must be controlled to a tee – especially for those who have food allergies/intolerances. In fact, I’d recommend anyone with such requirements avoid Taiwan Soul Food until the ordering is mistake-free.
Service issue number 3? The food takes a long time to come out. Even on my second visit, where the store was not at capacity, it took nearly ten minutes for the food to get out to us. This is despite the fact that all that is required is to dump the ingredients into the already boiling broth and let it cook for three minutes or so. On my first visit at around 6pm (peak) times, the time that elapsed from beginning of lining up to getting our bowls was approximately 45 minutes. On my second visit at around 5:30, there was no queue but the order took about 15 minutes to come out.
Street food it is. Quick food it ain’t. To be considerate of both sides: one possible deliberation in their defence is that they do cook everything from scratch, which in Asia, may not be the case (cooked from scratch <> ‘warmed up’). In the end, you will have to justify whether a double-digit minute wait is worth it.
For those who will brave the wait(s), you are rewarded handsomely:
Disclaimer: your bowl will probably look very different to ours.
I’ll just get this out of the way: the food here is good. The broth hearty and fragrant, full of intense, herby flavours and ever a hint of spice (not the chilli unless you got it). In terms of heat, medium chilli is probably the sweet spot, though go for gold if you want to warm up real quick. I know, I’ve tried.
The broth is really what you’re here for. If you like it, then Taiwan Soul Food has reached your heart. If not, none of the 80+ ingredients will make you change your mind.
In the above pictures, I’ve tried a mixture of e-fu noodles, clear vermicelli noodles, broccoli, wagyu beef, matsuzaka pork, several variants of fish tofu, fish balls and fried tofu. For those versed in hot pot, this will all be quite familiar to you. Now you know what I mean when I say a personal mini hot pot, right? Thanks to Sam for analogising this!
On my second visit, I tried it with udon noodles, beancurd skins, crab cakes and squid cakes. Still so good.
The broth is very consistent, while you could realistically keep coming and never have the same set of ingredients twice. It’s really delicious, if you can get past the waits and the potential of a mistaken order.
Best part? You can ask for a broth refill! I didn’t abuse this so can’t tell you how many times they would let. I’ll say this though – I could drink this nearly ad infinitum.
Taiwan Soul Food is aptly named – it’s food that will nourish your soul on a cold, cold day. Their opening is deliberately timed to coincide with Sydney’s chilling weather. They’ve got the goods down pat – broth lovers looking for a respite? Your haven is here.
If you can get past the hefty wait.
This post is based on 2 independent visits to Taiwan Soul Food
What’s your experience been with Taiwan Soul Food? Yearning to go? Let me know in the comments below!
- Superb broth captures the spirit of that magical spot of warmth in winter
- Huge variety of ingredients
- You could simply buy the ingredients at an Asian grocer and DIY at home for less. In this sense, the food is not ‘special’. However, good luck replicating the broth!
- Service is to be desired
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7 | S2 | A2