Peking duck is one of the two ‘must does’ in Beijing, the other being visiting the great wall of China. Its characterized by crispy skin that melts in your mouth and tender, spiced, succulent meat that oozes with flavor. Although traditionally from Beijing, Peking duck is now served all over the country.
The origins of Peking duck also known as roast duck can be traced back as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) when it was first prepared for the emperor of China. This dish soon became the national symbol of China, loved by the upper classes and inspiring many poets and scholars.
Special farms rear Imperial Peking ducks, force feeding them four times a day and keeping them in small cages. Restricting their movement ensures the tenderness of the meat. In preparation, the duck is rubbed with a unique blend of spices and sugar and air dried for about 24 hours. Air is pumped between the skin and flesh to ensure the crispiness of the skin. The ducks are then roasted in special ovens at 270 degrees C for about 45 minutes. Only the wood of date, peach and pear trees are used for the roasting, giving Peking duck its very distinctive flavor.
Eating Peking duck, isn’t about just the food, it’s a whole experience, a feast for the senses. You are seated in a private room, decorated with in traditional Chinese design. The decor is opulent in red and gold, an unsubtle reminder that Peking duck was for many centuries, enjoyed only by the upper echelons of society.
The chef will first showcase the duck to your table, its dark red and shiny, glistening in the light. The smell of the sweet spices fills the room. The slicing of the meat is a skill in itself; the chefs considered artisans, must train for many years to perfect their art. A good chef will be able to slice 120-150 pieces in 5 minutes with an equal proportion of fat and meat on every slice
The skin being one of the most important parts of the meal is often sliced and offered to the table to sample first. It’s crispy, soft, slightly sweet and melts on impact with your mouth
Next, the duck is served; you dip the pieces into the sweet hoisin sauce which is made of fermented soy, mixed with a unique blend of spices and sugar. The slices of duck and sauce are laid onto a thin pancakes and bars of cucumber and spring onions are added. The delicious filling is wrapped in the pancake and then your taste buds are treated to party of textures, flavors and contradictions. The tenderness of the meat and crispiness of the skin, the spiced saltiness in the duck and sweetness of the sauce, the heat from the duck and coolness of the cucumber and onion – compliment each other and all together are a pure indulgence.
Given all the effort that goes into raising the duck, no part of it goes to waste. The following dishes are considered additional delicacies, none of which I was brave enough to sample. My dining companions appeared to thoroughly enjoy these dishes and were slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t sample what they considered to be, the dishes that perfectly complete the meal.