As Year of the Horse gallops toward us, we can’t help but notice that horse and donkey have gotten a bad rap recently. From horse disguised as beef in Europe to donkey tainted with fox at Chinese Wal-marts (probably the only time someone complained that something didn’t taste like “ass”), they’ve been the red-maned stepchildren of the meat world. Still, it’s a shame to abstain in a country so full of equine eats, so we rounded up four horse/donkey dishes for you to try, before you say “yay” or “neigh” to eating them.
Donkey dumplings (驴肉饺子, lǘròu jiǎozi)
Most of Shanghai’s Dongbei restaurants offer donkey, both in cold slices on a plate and in dumplings with cabbage or other veg. Your best bet for Donkey dumplings, (or any dumplings for that matter), is Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King, where they come 18RMB for 15. Here, the donkey’s ground up and couched in so many other ingredients it’s hard to distinguish the texture or flavor from the beef dumplings. When drowned in soy, vinegar, and chili, it could be minced whale’s blowhole and you wouldn’t know. But if you’re a squeamish expat who just wants to strike donkey off your culinary bucket list, dumplings are a good way to go.
Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King // 1791 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Wanping Lu (淮海中路1791号, 近宛平路). Tel: (0)21-6433-0349. Hours: 10:30am-10:30pm daily.
Donkey noodles (驴肉烩面, lǘ ròu hui mian)
More adventurous eaters will want to head up the Henan donkey noodles at Zhengyuan Hui Mian. This dodgy little street den serves up hui mian, or hand-pulled wheat noodles that are cut into wide ribbons, and you can see the expert noodlers twirling the dough in the back like gymnasts with streamers. The noods are then boiled in stock simmered down from mutton or goat bones, and tossed into a soup with various other ingredients.
The donkey noodle soup (12RMB small, 14RMB large) is a veritable swamp of ingredients (we mean this in the best way possible) with a murky and rich broth, thick wheat noodles intertwined with tofu skin noodles, and crunchy tree-ear mushrooms jockeying for position with cilantro, quail eggs, and of course, maroon hunks of donkey that’ve been braised for hours.
Despite being paired with copious ingredients, the donkey flavor is loud and clear. The meat is tender, salty, and lean like smoked beef brisket, and there wasn’t nearly enough of it. Note: Make sure to jot down the dish’s Chinese name, lü rou hui mian (驴肉烩面), as Hui Mian doesn’t carry English menus.
Zhengyuan Hui Mian // 247 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, near Wuyuan Lu (乌鲁木齐中路247号, 近五原路). Tel: 159-0088-0345. Hours: 24 hours.
Donkey burger (驴肉火烧, lürou huoshao)
Though as common in Beijing as hamburgers are in New York, this Hebei snack of donkey meat in a Hejian-style unleavened dough pastry is, as far as we know, only served at one place in Shanghai. Getting there entails riding Line 11 out to the dusty boonies of the Putuo District, where you’ll find “Hebei Zhang Fat Donkey Fire” (河北张胖子驴肉火烧), a gritty hole-in-the-wall owned by a Hebei couple.
Why they chose to open a Hebei restaurant on the fringes rather than downtown where the people are is anybody’s guess – cheap rent, licensing issues etc. It doesn’t seem to matter as the place is packed to the brim with regulars every night. They’re all there for the donkey, of which Hebei Zhang offers every part from the meat served cold or in soup to slices from a donkey shlong that protrudes up from a metal tub at the back of the room in all its veiny glory. Pick a seat near the entrance, or else you’ll be staring down the barrel of it the entire meal.
You want the donkey burger (驴肉火烧, lürou huoshao). Not really a burger per se, the bun is made from unleavened (made without yeast) flatbread, that’s kneaded into rectangles outside by the couple’s son, and fired. We’d liken its texture to the crackery crunch of Jewish Matzah combined with the fluffy flakiness of apple turnover crust. Filling entails peppers and onions, and donkey meat that’s boiled and chilled until crimson like corned beef. Since the flesh is super-lean, they mingle it with globules of pink epidermal fat – though you can specify only lean meat (jingrou huoshao 精肉火烧). Either way, you’re in for what I think is one of the best sandwiches in Shanghai, and for only 5RMB.
Hebei Zhang Fat Donkey Fire // Putuo District No. 29 Jingtai Road (普陀区景泰路29号). Tel: 156-1832-7776. Hours: 11am-10pm. Closest metro stop: Qilianshan Rd (祁连山路) Line 11.
Called sakuraniku or “cherry blossom meat” for its pink coloring, horse sashimi can be found at Kushi An, a Japanese Izakaya know for serving a number of exotic eats, most notably whale. They offer both lean and fatty meat: lean is more evenly veined with fat, fatty consists of a meat strip bookended by two wide racing stripes of fat (above).
It doesn’t matter which one you choose. Both are equally impervious to chewing, despite being sliced razor-thin. After a full minute of squishing the first piece up and down in my mouth, it finally disappeared, and I thanked whoever first thought to put flame to meat. I suspect you could get the same effect from chowing on raw pork cutlets in the supermarket meat aisle.
Friends of mine who’ve eaten the dish in Japan said it can be tender, albeit rife with a barnyard aura. However, if you must check it off your culinary bucket list and can’t afford a flight to Japan, drown it in ample minced ginger and soy, and get it over with.
Kushi An // 2/F, No 10, 300 Guyang Lu, near Yaohong Lu (古羊路300弄10号2楼,
近姚虹路). Tel: (0)21-5175-3092. Hours: 5pm-6am. Closest metro stop: Songyuan Road (宋园路) Line 10.
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Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].