This week has seen my first trip to Beijing, and as soon as I was reminded of the PEK airport code, my mind had not wandered far from Peking duck. So I was delighted when my expat colleague came out with ‘Fancy some amazing duck for dinner?’ Of course! When in Peking…
Being a China resident and pretty familiar with Beijing, he took me to a traditional, classic Peking duck place rather than somewhere ultra-modern and fancy. It still had the menu translated into English (which was a relief, when it came to ordering our side dishes this could have ended in all sorts of offal-based disasters otherwise) but was busy and buzzing with the majority locals and just 1 other tourist table.
Now, I have eaten a fair bit of duck and pancakes in my time, most recently at a very good Chinese restaurant in Singapore (Empress, check out the review!) but never in its place of origin. I was surprised at how different it was, and so much tastier! Let me explain.
Now I can’t go straight to the duck, I’ll leave the main event to last and talk you through how the meal went. So, apparently it’s a part of the tradition that you get fresh fruit first, so out came a plate of strawberries on ice. Nice, if a little odd. Next came the ‘sides’ we ordered which were actually pretty hefty dishes in their own right.
We could have gone duck crazy, with duck tongue, liver and heart, but we opted instead for kung pao chicken (spicy, slightly sweet and delicious with crunchy peanuts and soft onion), honey fried king prawns (crispy, juicy and sticky) and broccoli in ginger garlic and soy.
At last came the main event. The duck comes out on a platter from the chef, whole in all its glory, with golden crispy skin. The chef, tableside, takes his knife and beautifully starts to dissect the duck. He takes off the outside skin in 1 big crispy piece to reveal the soft meat underneath. He then slices into the breast and leg meat and starts to layer it on to a plate in delicate pieces. The crispy skin then gets sliced into similar sized pieces and layered back over the top and placed in front of us. So, nothing different as yet, but it’s in the serving that this comes into its own.
We each were given our own platter of condiments. Instead of the standard sticky plum sauce, cucumber and spring onion we had the following; sticky salty fermented bean sauce, NOT sticky plum or hoisin sauce I had come to expect, yes the cucumber batons and spring onion strips, but also tiny diced pickles, granulated sugar, pungent garlic paste, and quince jelly. And the pancakes; not dry slightly floured white pancakes, but stretchy springy soft wheat pancakes, warm and doughy.
Pulling this all together is a craft. Whilst we rather ineptly started to cobble pancakes together, with duck and sauce spilling and dripping onto our laps, the waiter came over to show us how it was done. He expertly took slices of meat and crispy skin, one dipped into a little of the sugar, the other dipped into the salty thick sauce and placed at the edge of a pancake, with a slice of cucumber and spring onion. He then took his chopsticks and applied a little sprinkle of the diced pickles and just a touch if the garlic paste. Using ONLY his chopsticks he folded this into a perfect neat triangle, ready to be popped into your mouth, chewy, tasty, salty, sweet and delicious.
Whilst neither of us was able to replicate the perfect neat triangles, we quickly devoured the rest of the duck and pancakes, experimenting with different variations of condiments. I’d brave the Beijing smog just to come and eat more duck.
Siji Minfu – 32 Dengshikou W St, Dongcheng, Beijing