It’s the epitome of duckdom, the most succulent, sinful bit of roast duck I’ve ever encountered in my life. It’s exquisite, delightful, and certainly something I never would have expected to find so close to the Happy Dragon Hostel in Beijing.
This is Beijing duck. It’s the way duck is supposed to be, and I give serious props to the chef, who trained with the best of them to roast a duck to such a degree that every bite is pure pleasure.
Before I came to Beijing, I checked out my guidebook for information about where to go for great food, and I came up with a few suggestions for Beijing duck. According to the guidebook, the places to go were Da Dong’s Duck Restaurant and Made In China, both of which receive high reviews on The Beijinger, an English-language magazine that reviews restaurants and other things around town.
I managed to find Da Dong’s the other night when I was out with Jana, a Missouri native who teaches in South Korea, and Rob. Da Dong’s is super classy and definitely not the place we should have walked in with capris and t-shirts. But it’s also ridiculously expensive. We were able to get hold of the wine list, and its extensive menu of thousand-kuai wines was enough to make you feel ill. I read that the restaurant itself had a 180-page food menu, which is just insane. Full ducks start at 199 kuai, and then you have to buy drinks (and let’s just assume buying water here is no 1-kuai expense) and side items since you won’t be just purchasing the duck.
Needless to say, it’s a swanky place and one I was afraid I couldn’t afford.
This is not to say that I wouldn’t pay premium dollar for good duck, but I didn’t want it that badly. And the place almost requires reservations unless you don’t mind a thirty-minute to one hour wait. So my vote was no to Da Dong’s.
Made In China, the other restaurant listed in my guidebook gets even higher ratings on The Beijinger for slightly cheaper fare. Even so, I don’t think I need the reservations that much. I can probably find a good duck somewhere in this city, right?
Last night, we went out for duck. I was with Rob and an Iranian who lives in Sweden and who has a name that’s rather impossible for me to pronounce. He was very nice, though, and it was cool to meet someone new again. We were originally going to follow the suggestions of David, one of the Happy Dragon employees, who told us about a nearby duck place we should try.
We found the right street and were walking along. I have no idea if we actually found the correct restaurant or not because I’m hopeless when it comes to reading Chinese characters. We did, however, find a very pretty, tasteful restaurant that seemed a bit higher-end than the rest of the places we’d seen on the street. Feeling adventurous, we walked in and sat down.
The menu was pretty par for the course. They had everything from roast duck (clearly a must!) to duck giblets to mustard duck feet to chicken with walnuts to mutton. It was a meat-lover’s paradise. And to be fair, they also offered a decent selection of vegetables as well, including one of my favorites from Wuhan: hand-shredded cabbage. The menu was a ridiculous number of pages long, and it took at least five minutes to go through the whole thing.
The place had decent prices for duck, and I think it was around 158 kuai for a duck. So we ordered one duck, one set of pancakes, two sets of duck condiments, one order of chicken with walnuts, and one sauce plus drinks. Not a bad order and plenty of food to fill up three people very easily.
We received the chicken with walnuts first, and as is par for the course here, we waited for about 30 minutes before seeing hide nor hair of the duck. The chicken with walnuts is definitely one of my new favorite dishes here in China, and we demolished that by the time the duck was almost finished roasting.
Eventually the chef came out with the full duck on a platter. It was a crispy golden color with the head turned modestly down as if the duck were ashamed to be seen naked. The chef showed the duck to us, almost as if asking if it looked okay, and we all heartily agreed. Then he went off to one side and began slicing the duck into little bite-sized pieces.
By the time all the food was laid out before us, we had two plates of succulent duck meat, one bowl of steaming pancakes, two condiment platters, a basket of greens, and a basket of crispy, thin rolls. Our eyes were a bit larger than our stomachs in hindsight, but we valiantly sallied forth and began eating our duck.
Our waitress was kind enough to show us how to roll our Beijing duck pancakes and what to include with each pancake. The condiment platters had minced garlic, thick plum sauce, sugar, two kinds of minced pickled vegetables (one of which was pickled radishes), cucumber slices, onion slivers, and jelly-like vegetables that reminded me a bit of cranberry sauce.
Another waitress pointed out that we were supposed to eat the duck meat pieces with the garlic and plum sauce while we were supposed to dip the skin and fat pieces in the sugar. I tried a piece of the fat in the sugar immediately after she pointed it out, and suddenly I found myself in duck heaven.
I have no idea how this chef learned to make such delectable, tender, delightful duck, but the fat literally melted in your mouth. I don’t know how else to describe it. There was no need to chew because the fat and skin pieces just became a delicious goo that melted into your mouth, and when you put them in sugar, it was even more delicious. Even after they cooled off, the fat still seemed to just disappear, almost the way cotton candy dissolves into sweet nothingness.
But duck this incredible has to be terrible for you.
I don’t care.
The meat pieces that he cut for us were also incredibly tender and excellent when paired with almost any of the condiments. Making the pancakes is a fun experiment, but honestly, I would just eat the duck with the condiments alone.
Either way, I have to say that if that’s the last truly Chinese meal I have in China, I am perfectly happy with it. I would go back in a heartbeat to this place and pay bookus of bucks to get them to make me duck again, but I am happy enough just living with having had this experience.
And now, sooner than ever, I get on a plane to fly home. Tomorrow morning at 6:55 a.m. my flight leaves Beijing for Detroit, and then it will only be a matter of time before I’m back on home soil. I think I’ve had a full trip, and I’m really happy that I came, but I’m also happy to go home.
There will be a few more posts before I end this blog to wrap up loose ends. And then I’ll be home and a new adventure will be starting.
Here’s to China and the best Beijing duck I’ve ever had!