Cuisine: Donkey meat
Areas: Gulou, Huguosi, Xinjiekou, Dongsi, Shoupakou
Price: 15-30 RMB per person
In Gulou, where I used to live, donkey is popular. It feels like there’s at least one donkey-meat-sandwich hole-in-the-wall restaurant per block. If you’re not sure about the idea of donkey meat, it tastes a lot like beef – and the most popular way of eating it, in a garlicky sandwich with crispy bread – is delicious, even addictive, and perfect for a cold Beijing night. Why not?
If you’re going to give donkey a try, the best place to go is Fat Wang’s Donkey Sandwiches (Wang Pangzi Lürou Huoshao or 王胖子驴肉火烧).
Why is Wang’s the best? First, Beijingers rate it the number-1 restaurant in its price category (15-24 RMB!!!!) on China’s version of Yelp, dianping.com.
My neighbour in Gulou, a cheerful 80-year-old man with one tooth, liked to ask me if, and what, I had eaten. If I said, “donkey sandwiches,” he would say, “ahaaah! Fat Wang’s Donkey Sandwiches!”, sounding very pleased.
Second, the happy, friendly, waitstaff, who hang out around the door to the tiny kitchen.
And finally, the donkey meat. Wang’s serves nothing but donkey meat! You can in fact order it by weight, order various body parts, get donkey soup, etc., but the most popular dish is the lǘròu huǒshǎo, 驴肉火烧, the first item on the menu, at 6.5 RMB for one.
One is usually enough for me, but hungry people will want two each. The meat is tender, the bread is oily and flaky. Ask for a dish of garlic sauce, (suànzhī 蒜汁） to add an extra kick.
Side dishes are excellent too, my favourite being the suānlà báicài 酸辣白菜，a spicy and vinegary cabbage salad, basically a coleslaw that’s actually exciting. Those who’d like a milder accompaniment can try one of the various plain porridge, (zhōu 粥) sides.
80 Gulou Xidajie, Xicheng district. Gulou subway station, exit B.
113 Huguosi Jie, Xicheng district. Ping An Li station exit B.
92 Dongsi Beidajie, Dongcheng district, Beixinqiao station exit C.
66 Xinjiekou Dongjie, Xicheng district, Jishuitan station exit C.
71 Shoupakou Nanjie, Xuanwu District, Liuliqiaodong station (then the bus, it’s a bit far from the station).