29 August 2011

Back That Ass Up - A Sandwich in Beijing

The Hutong version of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

When I think of "Chinese Food." my brain does not veer in the direction of soup and sandwiches. Sure, no Vietnamese food porn session is complete without a thought or two about Banh Mi, and I have had a few good naan and curry wraps in India, but this is a very, very different part of the continent. This is China. And though my love of the sandwich is well documented, while I am in Beijing on a spur of the moment 2 week trip to visit some friends I was not expecting to enjoy any. Noodles and dumplings and Peking Duck - yes, but not meat and bread.

I was wrong.

Houyuan the dog encounters a donkey earlier in the day while at the Ming Tombs.

After a long, four day motorbike sidecar trip (my friend works for these guys, and so we have had full access to a bike) to the wild sections of the Great Wall spent hiking and eating hearty country food, we arrived back in Beijing's Dong Zhi Men Hutong at 3:30 pm with rumbling stomachs.

"Want to grab a sandwich?" my pal asked me.
"I only want to eat local food!" I shouted back over the roar of the engine. He smirked.
"Oh, it's local. You'll like it."

The proud and noble steed awaits his fate as my sandwich.

We arrived in front of the restaurant a few moments later, and once we headed inside I noticed the walls were covered with photos of livestock. But wait... there seemed to be a lot of pictures of ...donkeys? My friend finished ordering in a flurry of Chinese, pausing only to ask me, "do you want one or two?"

After the waitress had left, I looked at him, wide-eyed. "Are these donkey sandwiches?"
"Yes. They are. They're wonderful."
"Did you get this idea when we encountered those donkeys at the Ming Tombs?"
"Uh huh."
"You're a sick s.o.b."
"Uh huh."

(Now, Ms. Violet Dear has a confession to make. In Peru in May things got a little... weird. I ate a little more chicken than I intended. And when I got back to Vancouver for my birthday I decided to order one of my favourite dishes on the planet, duck confit. And since then.... well, let's just say I am on a pescetarian sabbatical, shall we?)

I decided to eat the donkey, Eeyore be damned.

Philadelphia can go fuck themselves.

The sandwiches arrived, kind of like pressed little panini inside kind of a dense oily ciabatta. Sauteed with the cubed donkey meat were peppers and chilis and onion, making the whole experience feel a little familiar.

"It's like a Philly Cheesesteak!" I exclaimed, happily taking another bite. The meat itself was like tender, slightly fattier beef. It was delicious.

The sandwiches are traditionally served with a garlic vinegar for dipping, and optional chili paste for slathering inside (I went for it, of course.) We ordered a few bowls of egg drop soup to go with the donkey, but the results were less than enjoyable.

A delicate broth of water and egg essence.
Sometimes I feel like China is fucking with me.

I'm pretty sure that the broth was simply the water used to poach the eggs, and there was no yolk to speak of. I valiantly tried a few spoonfuls and then decided that egg water soup was not for me.

The best part of the meal was the bill. For four sandwiches, two bowls of soup and a big 750 mL Yanjing beer, the total was 4 dollars. I gladly picked up the cheque.

So the next time you find yourself wandering around the hutongs of Beijing, make sure you make an ass of yourself and eat a donkey sandwich (sorry, couldn't resist.)

<3 V. Dear

Um. Sorry. My bad.
I feel like an ass about it, I really do. I can't help it if I'm assinine.

K, I'm done. Promise.

Ass. Heh.

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