Few cities in the world have a dish as iconic as Peking duck is to Beijing, and the reality is as good as the hype. In a city of more than 20 million people with tens of thousands of restaurants, dozens if not hundreds of which specialize in Peking Duck, so finding a place to eat can be overwhelming. Throw in menus full of Chinese characters and a language where tone changes meaning, and what should be a simple meal becomes downright complicated. For first-time visitors to Beijing, here’s a basic guide to demystify Peking Duck.
How It’s Made
Getting meat as moist and flavorful, skin as crispy and golden as good Peking duck takes some major time and expertise. Special ducks are raised and slaughtered after two months, and the cooking process starts by blowing air underneath the skin to separate it from the fat. The duck is soaked in hot water and hung to dry for up to a full day. The skin gets a generous glaze of syrup and spices while drying, and is then roasted to a golden brown. At the best restaurants, chefs carve the duck table side, serving the meat and crispy skin on separate plates.
How to Order It
In Mandarin, the dish is called Běijīng kǎoyā, and even if you mess up the tones, as long as you’re at a known Peking duck restaurant, your server will probably know what you’re talking about. A single, average-sized duck serves 8 to 10 people, and many restaurants will let you order a half duck if you’re in a smaller group.
How to Eat It
When the chef brings out the duck to carve, you’ll also be served a plate of thin white pancakes, thinly sliced cucumber and green onion, a thick hoisin sauce and sometimes radish or garlic aioli. First spread some of the sweet hoisin sauce onto a pancake and add a few slices each of cucumber and green onion. Add a couple pieces of duck meat (both skin and meat for a nice contrasting texture), and fold the bottom and sides of the pancake in. Eat the miniature burrito-like pocket from the open end.
- Relaxed - Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant, tucked in the old hutong neighborhood has been roasting and serving duck in their family-run courtyard restaurant since 1902. For a more laid back and local experience, this is a good bet.
- White table cloth - For a nicer sit-down dining experience with a crowd, try the well-known Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant. Their menu is huge but duck is by far the most popular dish and they even use a cooking technique that yields crispy skin and juicy meat with much less grease than some other Peking duck restaurants in town.
- Top of the line - While every local has their own favorite Peking duck joint, you’re likely to hear many rave about Quanjude. Dating back to 1864, this place is one of the oldest and most famous places to eat Beijing’s signature dish anywhere in the country.