Like many Taiwanese would-be gourmets, Mr Taiwanxifu and I have developed the bad habit of ‘checking in’ on Facebook when we are out dining — and posting blurry food photos from our smartphones so that people can know where we are and what we are eating. But few such posts have generated as much buzz as our visit to long-standing Taipei restaurant ‘Beijing Do It True’. Throughout our meal we were inundated with suggestions about what we should order, and how good the food was. So a few weeks later, we organised a get-together for Mr Taiwanxifu’s former university classmates so they could indulge in the dishes they had been fantasizing about.
Beijing Do it True, known also by its oddly rhyming Chinese name ‘北平都一處’ (Běipíng dōu yī chù) is one of the few remaining restaurants in Taiwan that continue the legacy of post-civil war mainland Chinese cuisine. As its bright yellow sign announces, Beijing Do It True was first established in 1949 (although as a food stand in Kaohsiung, rather than in Taipei), and it continues to serve up robust, authentic style Beijing food. It proudly proclaims itself as a mecca for visiting politicians and celebrities, including the 1994 visit of former US President George Bush (senior) and Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan.
One of the first things that greets you as you walk in is the glass display case with mounds of sesame buns (芝麻醬燒餅, NT$40 each, cutely misspelt as ‘bums’ in the English menu) and stainless-steel trays of thick stewed pork belly covered in its black, gelatinous stewing sauce (醬肉, NT$160). These are both specialties not to be missed at Beijing Do It True. The sesame buns are dense, sesame-paste orbs designed to serve as an accompaniment for the glistening stewed pork belly. Top with a dollop of the solidified stewing liquid, and you have a cholesterol inducing snack that elicits pure bliss in a way that only pork belly fat can.
Another item on display at the entrance was cooked chicken carcasses. Don’t confuse this for simple BBQ chickens; rather they are pine-smoked chicken (松子燻雞, NT$270). I enjoyed the delicate flavour of the smoked skin, which accentuated and brought out the chicken flavour. Nor was it oily; although the skin was slightly crispy it had not been subjected to rigorous deep-frying. I was a bit surprised, though, that the restaurant did not feature the usual Beijing delicacy of duck. But having tried the pine-smoked chicken, I thought it just as good if not better.
Our sesame ‘bums’ and pork belly were also accompanied by a serving of cold-sliced stewed beef. I enjoyed this dish as a slightly healthier topping for the sesame-filled buns. While not quite as fatty, the tendon-derived meat was tender and flaked away easily to the touch.
On the strong recommendation of the waitress, we ordered pan-fried dumplings. She described them as 鍋貼 (guōtiē), but they were unlike any guotie I had ever seen before. Around three or four times the size of usual pan-fried dumplings, they were like giants’ fingers filled with whole prawns, pork mince and leek. Fried in fat, they were crispy and incredibly good. I later researched the dumplings and found that they are in fact a northern speciality called 褡褳火燒 (dālián huǒshāo, NT$200 for four).
For the younger members of our table, we ordered a serving of sweet and sour pork tenderloin (糖醋里肌 NT 380). I am usually a fan of sweet and sour dishes, but I thought this missed the mark. The batter was too thick and oily, and the sauce too thick and sweet. It tasted as if it had been crafted for the Western diner unfamiliar with the delights of real Chinese food, which perhaps was its target audience.
One of my favourite dishes, somewhat surprisingly, was the stewed intestines (九轉肥腸, NT$480). In my pre-Taiwanxifu days, I gagged at the thought of eating offal. But I have now developed a taste for certain offal; if it is prepared well. And this dish of stewed intestines was delightfully tender, so soft it just melted in the mouth. It was covered by a slightly sweet, salty sauce that masked any offally flavour. If you didn’t know it was offal you would think it was something benign like tofu or chicken. Honest!
More popular with the younger set was the dish of deep fried meatballs (炸丸子, NT$380). I liked how they were served with a mixture of silk-road style spices (I could make out cumin and I think black pepper). But I thought they had been fried slightly too long and were a bit dry. But Taiwanxifu Toddler and the other children did not seem to mind.
On a healthier note, I enjoyed the seasonal peach and honey smoothie (水蜜桃奶昔). This was prepared with lots of ice, so tasted more like an ice-cream slushie than a smoothie. The peach/honey blend was nicely balanced, and although I thought this was an odd choice to accompany a heavy northern Chinese meal, I savoured every drop. Others at the table indulged in Beijing Do It True’s signature sour plum drink (酸梅湯, NT$160 a bottle). I am not a fan of salty plums so this was not a winner for me, but if you enjoy the flavour then you will like what they serve.
Also light and refreshing was the northern-style cabbage salad (涼拌白菜心, NT$220). Served as an entrée, it was a crunchy contrast to some of the richer dishes. While a simple dish, it disappeared almost as soon as it was served on the table.
Our plate of steamed vegetable dumplings (花素蒸餃, NT$140) reminded me of my student days in Beijing. There is something about northern-style dumplings that are different from those in Taipei. I think it is the slightly thicker ‘skin’, and the way they are folded.
One of our alumni members was vegetarian, and was by this point in the meal feeling a little underwhelmed by the choices available. So we ordered an additional two noodle dishes — a dish of cold sesame noodles (麻醬麵, NT$160) and spicy noodles (炸醬麵, NT$160). The waitress did not approve of our choice; she thought we should have ordered steamed fish instead. And perhaps she was right because the sesame noodles in particular were ordinary. Maybe it was as a result of eating so much fatty and fried food, but the sesame noodles tasted bland and unappetising. Most of us who tried the dish added soy sauce to it.
Our soup dish was a hearty, hot-pot style sour cabbage and pork meat soup (酸菜白肉湯 NT 400). Although this was probably more suited to a an icy Beijing winter than the post-tyhpoon tropical heat of Taipei, it still hit the right spot. I liked the way the slight sourness of the pickled cabbage contrasted with the frozen tofu in the soup. I didn’t like the thinly-sliced fatty pork meat as much, although it was typical of northern-Chinese hot-pot style dishes.
Yet there was still one formidable dish to come. I had almost forgotten that we had ordered scallion pancake (蔥油餅, NT$800). One of our friends had suggested that it be cut into twelve slices on account of its thickness. And when the giant, super-sized disc arrived I understood what she meant. It looked just like a pizza only bigger. And even with our large table of hungry eaters, we struggled to even make a dent in it. Definitely not something to order during an intimate meal for two.
Beijing Do It True is situated directly opposite the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, within a short walking distance of the Taipei City Hall at 506, Renai Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市仁愛路四段506號, phone (02) 2720-6417. Its bright yellow sign is hard to miss.