Niujiufen, a restaurant from Quanzhou, Fujian province, is famous for its 108-year-old secret beef recipe.
The legacy began in 1910 when the first member from the Huang family moved to the Philippines to work as a chef. When he returned to Quanzhou and opened a beef restaurant years later, he brought with him Western ways of cooking and sought to improve upon the local beef dishes.
His braised beef ribs proved unexpectedly popular with his customers and with the rich sauces, the secret family recipe and signature beef soup, the restaurant began attracting foodies from far and wide.
While the brand, Niujiufen, was only formally established in 2014, Huang's original secret recipe has been passed down through four generations.
Now, a new era has dawned for Fujian's famous food. From last month, Lin Huicai, a patron of the Huang family's restaurant since he was a child, has taken over the Niujiufen brand and brought the Quanzhou flavor to Beijing, opening its first branch in the capital.
According to Lin, the name Niujiufen, when translated, means his beef is a nine out of 10－because there is confidence in its flavor, and giving it 10 points would seem too boastful.
All the beef served comes from Australian bulls－one animal provides six cuts of meat, with each measuring somewhere between 30 and 35 centimeters long, weighing around a kilogram and boasting a fabulous texture.
"It is the sauce, which uses 21 kinds of herbs and spices and a dash of homemade 100-day-old liquor that makes the flavor of the steak unique," says Lin. "There are three rounds of seasoning with every dish."
The first batch of herbs and spices are put into the pot together with the beef for about 70 minutes, and 40 minutes after the heat is turned down, the second batch, including some curry, are added.
"Each pot of beef needs about four hours. We add the third batch and our liquor 30 minutes before it's finished," says Lin. "The steaks are slowly stewed on low heat, and each pot of stew will be only used once."
Lin refuses to do take-away for his food as he thinks it has to be eaten straight after being cooked, "or it will lose the fragrance".
Golden beef soup is another dish with which Lin insists on maintaining the traditional way of cooking to bring out the original flavor.
"When I was young, my neighbors could all make this soup, but now, people prefer to buy it," laments Lin. "I want to keep the homemade tradition going. That's why this bowl of soup is so popular."
The beef used to make the soup is taken from leg and the chefs cut it into strips before it's kneaded for a backbreaking 90 minutes in sweet-potato flour to make it tender.
"We add Quanzhou sweet potato flour twice during the process. One chef has to tenderize 40 kilograms of beef at one time, and by the time he is finished, it will be even heavier," Lin notes.
The key to ensuring a consistent flavor all year round is to maintain the same humidity and temperature. "We use an ice-cooled jar when we tenderize the beef in summer, because the warmth of the hands can influence the flavor," Lin explains.
Lin believes each ingredient has its own specialty, and he aims to bring each and every ingredient of his hometown's delicacy to as many people and places as possible, preserving the home-cooking skills for future generations.