Mien San is one of those restaurants that has been around for nearly two decades but Iâ€™m surprised at just how few people know about it.
Very little has changed about Mien San since it first opened in 1995, the year I also started frequenting it. The commercial strip it sits on has seen many tenants come and go but Mien San is the one constant. I can swear that its signage has never been changed in 15 years – it clings nobly on, though most of the letters have fallen off as well as the numbers of what used to be the restaurantâ€™s 6-digit phone number (remember those days?) And just because Iâ€™m the type of person who notices nearly every little thing when it comes to food and restaurants, itâ€™s a wonder to see how the serversâ€™ (all female, always) uniforms have progressed from white shirt under blue and white striped jumpsuit to white shirt and khaki pants to the present hot pink, button-down collar top with black leggings.
Mercurial fashion choices notwithstanding, the food at Mien San has always been spot on. The dumplings (P60-80/8 pieces) definitely, whether they be steamed (my choice) or fried: pork-cabbage, pork-kutchay, or shrimp-radish. The fillings, lovingly enclosed in a wrapper translucent enough to see the color of their precious package, like a cheek pressed onto a misted window, but toothsome and â€œbite-y.â€ Dip it into the shallow bowls holding a deep amber liquid thatâ€™s a thick and sweet soy sauce of sorts.
I find many permutations of this sauce among Mien Sanâ€™s dishes, like the cha-chang noodles (see cover photo; P128), a true favorite of mine. Tangles of white, chewy noodles onto which are heaped rough dice of black mushrooms, tofu, and peanuts. Itâ€™s a lukewarm not hot dish and I always ask that it be made spicy, although itâ€™s not really, just a â€œbuzz-yâ€ tingle. Thereâ€™s plenty of sauce left over at the bottom of the bowl which I like to sop up with manthou buns (P40-48/3 pieces). Fried, their crispy, slightly bubbly exteriors juxtapose the doughy, yeasty middles. Steamed, theyâ€™re reminiscent of siopao buns. Either way, have at it.
Mien San serves Taiwanese food, which looks and tastes a lot like Chinese food because it has its roots in mainland China. Thatâ€™s one category. The other is xiao-chi (folk) cuisine, the food most Taiwanese consume on a daily basis that originated from their forefathersâ€™ culinary culture. The eight main categories of this are poultry, meat, seafood, rice and noodles, tofu, sweet and savory pastries, beverages, and sauces.
Semantics aside, Mien San differs from the more familiar Chinese cuisine in its prolific use of herbs, minced greens, and sauces. Revel in the unique commingling of all three in the cold tofu with century eggs garnished with kutchay, shredded garlic and crushed peanuts. In addition, no Taiwanese meal would be complete without a bowl of the original beef noodle soup (P158), its complex broth simmered with numerous herbs and chunks of beef laced still with an outer rim of fat. And oh, the onion pancake (P65) with its concentric circles seemingly embedded in the flaky dough reminiscent of a Chinese empanada! Nowhere near as onion-y as its name suggests, itâ€™s as pleasing to look at as it is to eat, its dough flecked with kutchay and Chinese chives (two herbs that are in almost every dish here at Mien San).
I can enumerate all the flavorsome reasons I keep on going back to Mien San not the least of which are the various hotpots, pata tim, and the somewhat out of place fried pork chop rice (P148). Itâ€™s neither here nor there â€“ Taiwanese? Chinese? â€“ but itâ€™s flattened and fried â€˜til crispy, so tender that only a minimum of chewing is required.
Mien San tastes exactly the same now as it did back in 1995, a real assurance in these days of â€œrestaurant rouletteâ€ where one visit may not be as memorable as the last. And I wonder at Mien Sanâ€™s prices â€“ so low that even my â€œCheapskates of the Universeâ€ (COTUs) friends leave happy and burping. Iâ€™ve treated a party of 11 here for only P1,600. Beat that.
Iâ€™ve only recently gone back to Mien San after an absence of about two years, hence this post. Other restaurants? Forgetfulness? I have no excuses. But Mien San is like a good old friend â€“ time and distance are inconsequential and once we meet again, we start off right where we left.
Mien San Noodle House
36 Granada Street
Bgy. Valencia, New Manila, QC
721. 5794 / 723.0558