A Beijing dilemma: What to do if someone asks, "Would you like to join me for an ass sandwich?" Solution: Remain calm. Do not take offense. Unless you are a vegetarian, this question should be answered with a simple "Yes, please." Your taste buds will be in for an entirely unexpected treat.
Lürou huoshao (translation: donkey meat in a wheaten cake) may sound marginally more alluring in the Chinese language. But even in a place as ecumenically devoted to the consumption of flesh as China, people from most parts of the country remain firmly ass averse. It's their loss. At least that's what the die-hard donkey-meat connoisseurs who line up at tiny windowed stalls around Beijing at lunchtime will tell you if you ask their opinion (and quite often if you don't). This is a snack that inspires loyalty in those with the good sense to try it.
Preparation can vary from stall to stall. Debates rage on the Internet as to whether Fat Wang's version is better than Old Donkey Head's. But whatever the differences, the final products will always share several key attributes. The meat, which is leaner and milder than beef, will have been slow-simmered in a blend of spices ("no fewer than 30 spices" according to the chef at Orthodox Hejian Donkey Meat in the west of Beijing). It is then allowed to cool, before being sliced very thinly and perked up with a generous scattering of chopped green pepper. The huoshao, or wheaten cake, should be piping hot and a little glossy on the outside with steamy, soft folds lining the hollow insidethink of it as half New York pretzel, half popover. Pried open like a clam, then stuffed to overflowing with donkey, the bun will strain against its thin paper wrapper as it passes from its maker's hands into your own. Since a lürou huoshao costs less than 40 cents, deciding whether to have seconds should be no dilemma at all. You are what you eat? Not in this case.
by Susan Jakes
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