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By Juling He
Beijing, China — Returning home one day, I notice a small restaurant near Tuanjie Hu Subway Station, called Mén Dīng Li Bàodǔ (门丁李爆肚). It is always busy with customers. It is beyond my ability to figure out what kind of restaurant it is from the literal meaning, ‘doornails and cow belly lining’.
A little research on the internet says it is a popular, authentic Beijing snack restaurant. Just as the restaurant name shows, the specialty here are méndīng ròu bǐng (pan-fried buns filled with beef, 门钉肉饼) and bàodǔ (爆肚, cow belly lining). The menu features a few specialty dishes.
While ordering, the waitress mentions that local Beijingers love bàodǔ (10RMB/small plate, 20RMB/large plate) very much. We ordered a small plate to try. The earliest records about this dish possibly date back to the Qianlong period during the Qing dynasty. Traditionally, most Chinese Muslim restaurants sell this dish in late autumn and early winter. Cow belly lining or sheep belly lining are used to make bàodǔ. After cleaning the lining, it is sliced then boiled quickly until cooked. It is served with a dipping sauce made of sesame sauce, vinegar, chilli oil, and cilantro.
Local Beijingers love the sauce as well as bàodǔ. It is believed that bàodǔ can cure stomach disease! They regard bàodǔ a fabulous pleasure to eat with liquor or beer and fresh sesame seed cakes. We observed that this dish was on every table. The table next to us ordered at least five plates, sequentially while we were there! They seem addicted to it. Strangely, it is flavorless but chewy. Perhaps one try isn’t enough to appreciate bàodǔ.
Méndīng ròu bǐng (3RMB each) were really delicious! Thin skin with fragrant meaty filling! All flavors in the beef filling are balanced. After one bite, you can feel the juice come out. Méndīng literally means ‘doornails’ because they look like the doornails in the imperial palace during the Qing Dynasty. Yes, they look oily. Cut the greasy feeling by drinking millet congee (1RMB) while eating.
Má dòufu (麻豆腐) is only available in Beijing. Here, ‘má‘ has nothing to do with Sichuan’s spicy flavor. It means ‘like freckles’. After soybeans are ground in a mill, the product is divided into dòujiāng (soybean milk, 豆浆), dòuzhī (mung bean milk, 豆汁), and má dòufu (麻豆腐). When fermented dòuzhī boils over a large fire, the water evaporates. The remaining solid material is má dòufu. It is a greenish grey and sour. In the past, poor people usually bought it and used mutton-tail oil to stir-fry it. Later, it became a popular snack among local Beijingers.
Our bill came to 42RMB for three people. If you live nearby, try to enjoy authentic Beijing snack food! Even if you do not get used to the textures and flavors, it is still a great experience to feel local Beijing food culture!
Mén Dīng Li Bàodǔ (门丁李爆肚) Běi èrtiáo Bldg No. 3 dōng cè Bei, Tuánjié hú, Cháoyáng qū. Exit southeast gate at Tuanjiehu Subway Station, walk east and it will be to your left. No phone number. No English menu. (朝阳区团结湖北二条3号楼东侧(近长虹桥).