How do you choose your holiday destinations?? For me it is all about the food which is on offer in the various countries I am considering visiting.
Today I have a special guest post for you from Sandra Peterson, a Beijing local for 5 years and a food connoisseur who is sharing the Peking Duck tradition with Gourmet Getaway readers.
Visitors to China will have ample opportunity to feast themselves on myriad Chinese delicacies, but nothing beats a full course of Peking duck. Despite common misconception among foreigners that the dish is simply roast duck breast with plum sauce, when eating Peking duck in the Chinese capital, no part of the bird is wasted. Read on for what to expect when eating duck prepared in this style and to learn the history of the dish.
Wherever you find Beijing hotels, you’ll find someone ready to take you to a restaurant for “Beijing kao ya,” as the dish is called in Mandarin Chinese. But, unless you’re sure about the recommendation don’t go to the first restaurant you’re told about. Sampling the delicious, and sometimes complicated, meal is a main goal of many visitors to the city — even domestic tourists — and unfortunately, there are some restaurants that cut corners to turn over more customers for more profit.
To make an educated decision about the restaurant, have a clear picture of what you’re looking for. A meal of Beijing duck (also known as “Beijing roast duck”) serves you the whole duck over several courses. One duck makes a surprisingly large meal and so it’s served family style. Because there’s so much food involved, solo travellers would do well to team up with an eating partner to ensure justice in done to the meal. This was a dish originally served at the emperor’s court, so expect it to be lavish.
Crispy Skin Is a Good Sign
Each restaurant will have slightly different sides prepared from the bulk of the bird, but the main event is the sweet and crispy roast skin of the duck, sliced off the bird by an attendant at your table. The skin should have a thin layer of fat and a bit of meat clinging to it. Diners take a thin, palm-sized pancake from a steam basket, insert a few sticks of cucumber or spring onion, dip the sliver of skin in the provided dishes of sauce and then wrap the pancake around the skin. If you can handle it, this should be done with a pair of chopsticks. If you can’t get the pancake to behave once you’ve stuffed it, it’s permissible to use your hands discreetly.
Once you and your tablemates have devoured the skin of the bird, the server will start to slice off thin bits of the duck breast meat. At this point, you may need to order another basket of pancakes for wrapping the meat. Restaurants don’t usually serve too many pancakes at once, as they are warmest and most pliable straight from the steamer.
Side Dishes Round Out the Meal
Depending on what you’ve ordered, the restaurant will also be serving you an assortment of side dishes made from the duck’s innards. This usually starts out with a bowl of soup made from a duck-bone broth, which may or may not include the duck’s feet. Fried duck’s bills or duck’s feet are not uncommon, as is fried rice made with leftover bits of the breast and thigh meat. The wings might be served as is or in your soup. The innards of the duck, such as the liver, might be salted or pickled and served. Whole duck’s heads are sometimes served as well.
Beijing duck served in this style is first mentioned in Chinese records in the 12th century, but may not have had true fame — even domestically — until a restaurant specialising in the dish opened in Beijing in the 1800s.
Each restaurant has a different trick to making their Beijing duck stand out from the pack. Essentially, the duck is prepared by basting it with sugar and oils, inflating the skin off of the meat and hanging it to roast over a wood fire. Some prefer closed ovens; others say an open flame cooks best.
One thing that is certain, when in Beijing it is essential to try this famous Duck dish.
What do you think lovely readers? I think it is worth a trip to sample this tasty dish in its natural environment. (Julie)
About the Author: Sandra Peterson lived in Beijing for five years. I am told she has tried to replicate this regal dish at home, but nothing compares to the real thing—so far. Currently Sandra is living in Auckland, where she teaches Mandarin and enjoys some bushwalking when weather permits. When she goes back to China for a visit, she can always find hotels on Expedia. I have to agree, during my last holiday to Singapore all my flights and accommodation were also booked through Expedia.