Ensure government big tofu

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Sandeep Robert Datta posted this on Facebook, from the Beijing International Airport:

Bǎofǔ dà dòufu 保府大豆腐
("Bao[ding] Prefecture uncut bean curd")

Bǎofǔ 保府 is short for Bǎodìng fǔ 保定府 ("Baoding Prefecture"), which was the capital of Zhílì 直隶 Province during the Qing Dynasty. Zhílì 直隶 (formerly romanized as Chihli) means "directly ruled" and refers to the fact that the area was under the direct control of the imperial government. Baoding (保定) served as the seat of the viceroy of Zhili and had been a fǔ 府 ("prefecture") since the Ming Dynasty. Meanwhile, Baoding is well known for its tofu and is also famous for its hand exercise balls or "healthy balls". Baoding (formerly romanized as Paoting) lies less than a hundred miles to the southwest of Beijing.

The dà dòufu 大豆腐 ("big tofu") on the menu refers to the large piece of tofu shown on the plate. Because tofu would usually be cut into small pieces when it was cooked, the "big" piece in this recipe is special, which is why people refer to it as dà 大 ("big").

Unsurprisingly, the name of the Beijing restaurant where this particular dish is served is Zhílì huìguǎn 直隶会馆 ("Zhili Hall"). It is located in Zhongguancun of Haidian District in the city of Beijing. A huìguǎn 会馆 ("guild / association / assembly hall; provincial or country guild") is a meeting place for provincials to gather in the capital or other large city. In this case, the Zhílì huìguǎn 直隶会馆 ("Zhili Hall") is a sort of restaurant-cum-museum that emphasizes the cuisine and customs of the home region. I suppose that Sandeep's photograph comes from a branch of the Zhílì huìguǎn 直隶会馆 ("Zhili Hall") in the Beijing International Airport.

Here are some of the meanings for the individual characters that make up the name of this dish, so you can guess how the translator arrived at "ensure government big tofu":

bǎo 保 ("ensure; insure; guarantee; protect")

fǔ 府 ("official residence; government office; mansion; prefecture")

dà 大 ("big")

dòu 豆 ("bean")

fu 腐 ("rotten; decayed; corrupt")

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng]


  1. dw said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 10:38 am

    Sounds like something the Tea party would be against.

  2. Mara K said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 11:49 am

    Especially if Big Tofu were to take subsidies away from traditional agriculture.

  3. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 11:54 am

    "A government big enough to ensure you a big portion of tofu is a government big enough to take away everything you have." — Gerald M. Ford, 1974 (mutatis mutandis)

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

    (OK, Ford's middle initial was not, in fact, M. I must have been confused by having just learned about m-reduplication in Turkish.)

  5. flow said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 8:56 am

    Both the English and the Chinese Wikipedia entries for the city in question would appear to somewhat corroborate the relative meaningfulnes of the English naming of the dish, viz. "It acquired the name "Baoding" during the Yuan dynasty — the name is roughly interpreted as "protecting the capital", referring to the city's proximity to Beijing." and "北宋建隆元年(960年)改清苑县为保塞县,置保塞军". Now i gotta get out those healthy balls…

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