I don’t know when I first heard about Peking Duck, but it must have been way back in my childhood because the famous Chinese dish gained the mythical quality of Pekingese dogs, Star Trek and Shangri-La in my imagination. Now known as “Beijing Duck”, it is a must eat food experience while in the Chinese capital and there are many proud restaurants advertising their duck as the best.
Every Chinese city and region has its own speciality cuisine and Chinese people are intensely proud of their local dishes, so much so that food is regarded as a tourist attraction when visiting a new place. They love their food and come alive when talking about it. While wandering around Beijing, you will encounter a plethora of mouth-watering temptations.
It was, and still is, difficult for me to decide where to eat because there are so many different, delicious looking foods and they are usually only listed on the menu in Chinese. Although the pictorial characters are beautiful, it can be very frustrating for a Mandarin-illiterate foreigner foodie! The picture menus are incredibly helpful and I find myself frequently just pointing to a picture, smiling, uttering the few polite Chinese words I’ve learnt so far and waiting to see what comes out of the kitchen.
Often I just stand outside an enticing eatery looking in, not sure whether to go in and try it or not. I still haven’t tried Tanhulu, the popular candy coated snacks on sticks, sold on just about every street corner and in every shopping mall here.
I really wanted to try Peking Duck in Beijing, but I would have been too scared to go to one of the luxury restaurants alone. Fortunately, I met some other foreigners who also wanted to eat duck and invited me to join them, so I now have my own Peking Duck Dinner adventure and finally found out what the mythical meal is all about.
We set off around dusk, walking through the atmospheric Beijing streets from our hotel to the restaurant we’d spotted earlier that day.
Sijiminfu Restaurant was attractively decorated with carved wooden screening and beautiful framed calligraphy as well as being noisy and absolutely packed with patrons either eating or browsing large glossy magazines we realized later were menus. We were seated at a large round table with a central circular glass spinning platform for the food. The theatre began when a blue glass dish filled with smoking ice and topped with fresh Chinese dates was swiftly placed on our table and menus presented.
It was pretty confusing, but we’d soon ordered a Peking Duck and several other amazing looking dishes from the glossy menus. After that, it all happened quite quickly. As we ordered our other dishes, a trolley was wheeled over beside the table presided over by a chef.
I don’t know what I’d expected Peking Duck to be, but it was very different. I think I’d thought it was more of a duck-in-sauce-dish, but soon discovered it is a whole glossy, golden, roast duck, carved with such precision that not one tiny scrap is wasted. The chef carved it next to our table and arranged the meat, including succulent crispy skin, on platters. We were all given individual sectioned plates, each compartment filled with sliced vegetables, fresh green leaves, garlic, pickles and a thick brown sauce.
We were offered small pancakes a bit like mini tortillas which were used to wrap the duck pieces and selected condiments in. It was delicious and so decadent.
Here it is set out on the table. My individual tray has some duck meat and skin, accompanied by fresh vegetable strips, crushed garlic, condiments and the special sauce. The pancakes in the little wooden tub top left and some crisp bread puffs are used to hold it all together. Nothing is wasted in China and behind the bread basket, a special plate is provided for some select pieces of meat.
Take a closer look at some of those duck delicacies: the head, legs and some crunchy breast skin.
It was a memorable night, with probably too much food and drink, but so worth it! When you visit Beijing, a Peking Duck Dinner is a must and Sijiminfu Restaurant is a wonderful place to eat it, close to Wangfujing Street with its night markets and street food; exquisite calligraphy on the walls and helpful staff to show you how to eat it too. We all walked home feeling very satisfied with our experience that evening.
I’ve since discovered Peking Duck on the menu of some of the larger hotel buffets in Changzhou and I have tasted it a couple of times too, but it will never be the same as this first time, eating Peking Duck near the Forbidden Palace in Beijing.