Aug 5, 2008

Another Beijing Olympic casualty

During the past few years, there's been a lot of construction of new buildings and demolition of old ones in Beijing. I thought that Baodu Zhang (爆肚张), an old-style Beijing restaurant that serves boiled sheep stomach, located in the Houhai area, was popular enough that it would have been spared. I just walked by there the other night, and it turns out it got demolished just a couple weeks ago. So unfortunate.

This local hole-in-the-wall of questionable sanitation was significant enough that even Anthony Bourdain visited on one of his No Reservations shows. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the best sheep stomach restaurant in the world, but it the setting was very authentic. The menu was pretty simple. From what I recall, it was basically this:
  • various sheep stomach parts, boiled or served in a soup
  • sesame dunkin' sauce
  • bread
  • mung bean paste (麻豆腐)
  • erguotou liquor
I think there were a few other things on the menu, but they weren't things you'd normally order. One thing to keep in mind is that the sheep stomach parts at this type of restaurant look and smell like stomach parts. There's no thick, syrupy sauce to cover up what you're eating. It's as basic a dish as you could make. Depending on the specific stomach portion that you order, it could be a mild smell or an overpowering one.

I would never have taken any friends or family visiting Beijing as tourists to this place unless they specifically asked. Americans tend to not do very well with boiled organ meat and mushy beans with the consistency of mashed potatoes.

The restaurant was housed in a dilapidated courtyard-style restaurant that probably hadn't been renovated since the Cultural Revolution. It really stood out from its high-class restaurant neighbors, like Nuage and Kaorouji. It was like the graffiti-covered Detroit crack house next to the new condo development. From the outside of Baoduzhang, one could suspect that this place wasn't up to par with the standards the local government had set for the Olympics:

Inside, the setting wasn't at all high class, but it was perfectly appropriate for the style of cuisine.

A concluding anectdote:

One of the last times I was in Baoduzhang, there was a small line of about three couples going out the door of the restaurant. There were only about ten tables inside, so lines were a frequent occurrence. I had been to this place quite a few times prior to this occasion. Even so, upon seeing a White Man standing in line, the hostess girl instinctively shouted out (in Mandarin) from inside the restaurant to my GF, "We only serve organ meat here, does he know? We only serve organ meat here." Apparently they've had problems in the past with unruly White Men who were upset about the menu.

Without missing a beat, I shouted back to the hostess in Mandarin, "What? Are you serious? I can't eat organ meat! I must have a hamburger and french fries. Can you guys make me a hamburger and french fries? What's going on here?!" I had a pleasant smirk on my face the whole time.

The hostess stared back at me for a few seconds with a straight face, and then proceeded to reiterate to my GF that they only serve organ meat. The mainland Chinese sense of humor for the most part doesn't include irony or sarcasm, so unfortunately I had to laugh at my own joke. Eventually, the hostess figured out that she had a wisenheimer on her hands, and stopped explaining. See, racial profiling isn't just limited to the airport security line.

I still think it was a good joke on my part.


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