The GoGlobal Blog

Donkey Sandwiches

Donkey Sandwiches

There is always that local place that you love to eat at. Back home in Cincinnati I love to go to my neighborhood Skyline Chili. In Chicago I really enjoy going to a place called Ghareeb Nawaz before or after I head into work for the day or in the harsh Chicago winter to Pho 888 a few stops down the Red Line to reminisce about Viet Nam over a bowl of steamy pho, remembering the pho restaurant I frequented everyday down Alley 18 so that by the end of my semester in Saigon, I could just say ‘the usual’.
I was looking for a nice place to eat here in Beijing, that little restaurant that would become ‘my place’. I technically can cook for myself but the public kitchens on each floor of my dorm are not the most sanitary. There was once instance when I went to fill my metal and clay thermos with hot water to make a warm green/oolong tea and when I turned the level to the spout of the hot water heater, a half dozen roaches scurried out of the grille of the machine. Besides that the kitchens are not always open, and when open are usually occupied by Thai, Indonesian, or Vietnamese exchange students. They seem to have a monopoly on the kitchens while the American, Korean, and Japanese students seem to have resigned themselves to eating out. Is this a cultural thing? Going to supermarkets around UIBE have also led me to believe trying to cook here would be more expensive than just eating out. It would also be a waste to buy all the utensils to cook and then just leave them behind at the end of the semester. Thus, I searched around for some good (and cheap) local restaurants. My adventures around campus and a few streets slinking away from the university yielded interesting results, none could compare to the glory that is… DONKEY!
My first week in Beijing was a whirlwind of Orientation. During that time, one of my good friends Tyler was just getting ready to head back to the States after spending the summer in Beijing. Tyler had also been in Beijing two semesters prior on the same program. So, for the first week before I headed out on the Silk Road excursion, Tyler helped out with some useful things, including finding some good places to eat. Of all these places, none come close to the ‘Donkey Restaurant’. The exact translation of the restaurant is something like, “Little Donkey Restaurant”. It is a cozy little hole in the wall a block from campus down a little side street.
The first time when I went with Tyler and his girlfriend I was a bit skeptical of how good donkey could be. He ordered some sandwiches and I was hesitant to bite into mine, but once I did I was hooked. The sandwich itself is made of a kind of flatbread they make in a big iron press in the back of the restaurant. It is so warm, oily, and flaky on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Stuffed into the flatbread are strips and chunks of donkey meat surrounded by minced green peppers. The meat is like beef, but a bit more chewy and sweet. The green peppers are juicy and mildly spicy. On the table red chili pepper paste and Chinese vinegar are available. I usually put just a dash of vinegar on the sandwich, gently slather on the red chili pepper paste with the tiny metal spoon, and then I add my own ingredient: Maggi Sauce. I carry a little bottle of Maggi sauce with me whenever I go to the donkey restaurant because it adds a little extra flavor to the already awesome sandwich. All in all a great meal, and all for just 5 RMB, which is close to 1 USD.
There are other great things to eat at the donkey place- like donkey rice, donkey jiaozi (potstickers), and donkey soup, hotpot, and fried green beans. The rice is nothing special, but the donkey jiaozi and soup are quite good. The soup is a kind of thick egg-drop soup with the shredded donkey and peppers from the sandwich thrown into the mix. It’s a great winter food- warm and spicy with lots of flavor. It always comes to the table in a large ceramic bowl accompanied with lots of smaller bowls and a large ladle, a family style soup. The jiaozi are packed tightly with tenderized donkey meat. The jiaozi from the donkey place seem to be more filly than other comparable jiaozi of pork, beef, or vegetable that I’ve eaten in other restaurants. The fried green beans are served with peppers and taste a lot like French fries. The hotpot is a whole meal in itself- a large bubbling pot of donkey chunks, tofu, mushrooms, noodles, cabbage, and peppers.
Going to get donkey has become something more than my little hangout, but has become a sort of ritual of my friends and I. At least three times a week for dinner or lunch we all decide to go to get donkey. A slang has come up “Lets go do the donk” or “let us partake of the sacred meal that is donkey” We have a little joke amongst ourselves. I’m sure you can guess what it is… Anyway, our little donkey excursions have been a bonding experience and the meals are always great. The workers in the restaurant know our faces and whenever we deviate from our usual meal they become surprised. One day we decided to try a donkey hotpot instead of sandwiches, and they were very surprised!
I never thought of donkey sandwiches as Chinese food, but I have found them to be one of my favorite dishes. I was talking with a professional photographer from Russia over a donkey sandwich one night after a photo shoot and he actually told me on his flight to China all he could do was think about eating donkey, at a different restaurant, but still- donkey. Who would have thought?
Sitting in the restaurant in the little orange tables and stools looking around at my friends, its so funny. It isn’t how I imagined China, but it’s great. I found my little place, I have good friends to share it with, and according to Chinese Medicine- donkey is a yang stimulating meat (heat producing) and so will be great for this winter. One of the Chinese students told me that there is an old saying that the finest meat in heaven is dragon, but that on earth the finest meat is donkey. I would have to agree. I’m going to miss eating donkey when I get back to the US, but for now I’m going to enjoy it while I can. Anyhow all this talk about donkey is making me hungry and it’s about lunch time, so I better call some friends so we can go eat some ass.

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