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Beijing baodu: what a load of tripe

updated: 2009-12-07

Do you think you're an Old China Hand? Do you self-identify as a Beijingren, and pride yourself on adding "arr"s to all the right words? Do you hear the name of the dish baodu and cleverly determine that because "bao" means to quick-fry in hot oil, and "du" means tripe, that this old school Beijing dish is tripe cooked in hot oil?

Ha! Clever though you may be, baodu is actually cooked in boiling water. Du does means tripe, though, and yes, that's the edible stomach lining of lamb and cattle, often resembling a rubbery sea urchin that's been run over by a flatbed truck.

"The raw ingredients are put into the pot, and are quick-cooked with a big fire, which is called bao," explained Feng Guoming, the third-generation tripe master of Jinshenglong Baodu Feng, a well-known old Beijing baodu restaurant brand with a history of more than 100 years. Lamb tripe and ox tripe can all be used to cook baodu, but most people prefer baodu made of lamb tripe because, as you might guess, it's more tender.

Baodu is the one of the most famous old Beijing snacks. In the past, celebrities like Mei Lanfang and Ma Lianliang, both Peking opera masters, were keen on it. Records about this dish first showed up during Qing emperor Qian Long's reign (1736-1795). Now the restaurants and stalls that specialize in baodu often are run by people of the Hui ethnic minority, for whom beef and lamb are staple foods.

Of course, there's more to it than just giving it a quick boil. First, as one might imagine, the tripe should be cleaned thoroughly. This is a very important step, for unclean tripe will give baodu a disgusting taste. Chefs often rub fresh tripe with coarse salt to make it cleaner, and vinegar is used to reduce the distinct smell of what was, let's remember, the inside of a lamb's stomach. After this thorough scrubbing, the tripe is cut in slices or shreds, flash-boiled and then fished back out with a strainer. Baodu is served with an assortment of dipping sauces, including oil, sesame, vinegar, chili oil, fermented bean curd soup, coriander, diced green onion and other spices.

Beijingers usually eat baodu in the late autumn and early winter (one can only imagine that steaming plates of tripe don't go down that well in summer). Most eateries are small, but because of the dish's popularity, quite a few restaurants and families have become famous for it, including Baodu Feng, Baodu Zhang,Baodu Shi, and Baodu Man (see box).

The tripe itself is tender and crispy, but getting the sauce right is also vital; finding the perfect recipe is the secret to success. Furthermore, the technique of eating baodu with dipping sauce is considered important enough that Feng explained it on the TV show This is Beijing. Pointing at a bowl of layered sauces, he told audiences, "First you should stir the sauce evenly, like stirring eggs, and then just pick one slice of tripe with your chopstick and dip it deep into the bottom of the sauce bowl. As you draw back you slide along the bowl wall, getting the diced parsley and green onion stuck to it, and then put it into your mouth," Feng said.

All tripe is not created equal, either. In restaurants, it's usually cut into different parts to cook: duban, duxin, duhunlu, dusandan, dumogu, mogutou, shixin, duling and duren. Each part has a different texture, requiring a differing amounts of boiling time. Duren, the most tender, only needs five seconds. Only a little bit of each lamb stomach can be used for duren, so usually this baodu is more expensive, at around 48 yuan per plate.

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