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26 Nov 2013

Da Dong Roast Duck (北京大董烤鸭店) Part 1

Beijing [北京] • 26 NOVEMBER 2013
What's a trip to Beijing without eating duck? According to a Chinese saying, no visit to Beijing is complete if you miss seeing the Great Wall or dining on Roast Duck. As a famous and delicious food with very long history, Beijing Roast Duck is an excellent choice if you want to understand more about Chinese cuisine, culture and customs. 

When I was doing my pre-trip research into the best Beijing duck in Beijing, the names of a few places appeared again and again. One of them was Da Dong, a restaurant specialising in both Beijing duck and modern Chinese cuisine. We went there without booking, the restaurant was fully booked. We were asked to wait at the bar and watched the Peking Duck being prepared. We didn’t have to wait empty handed though – we were directly to a little counter that held free drinks: bottles of soft drinks and boxes of wine.  We were then ushered out of the main restaurant into the very pleasant room which was far away from the action. Estimate waiting time 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Peking duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era, and is now considered a national dish of China.The dish is prized for the thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with pancakes, scallion, and hoisin sauce or sweet bean sauce.
Two notable restaurants in Beijing which serve this dish are Quanjude and Bianyifang, two centuries-old establishments which have become household names.

So, the best Beijing duck in Beijiing?

Along with the usual pancakes (so much thinner than I’ve ever had), we each got a sesame puff too (shaobing) to fill with duck slices. I quite liked this for its textural difference to the pancake and wished we could have had two each!

Priced separately from the duck was the condiments – sweet sauce, spring onions, cucumber, radish, two pickled vegetables, crushed garlic, and sugar (8 RMB per person). As suggested, with the pancakes, the duck was dipped in the sweet sauce and then wrapped with spring onions and cucumber. The radish and garlic (this was hot!) could also be tasted to one’s taste (and very much suggested for eating with the shaobing). The pickled vegetables were to be eaten on their own to cut the richness of the duck. The sugar was for dipping the skin into – this was surprisingly delicious, my favourite way of eating the skin!

This was their famous Da Dong SuperLean Roast Duck (198 RMB for a whole one) which is cooked in such a way that all the fat is rendered out and you’re left with lean meat and crispy skin. The duck is brought out and carved tableside (well, almost tableside – it’s not in your face but you can look over now and again to see how the carver is progressing).

The cooked Peking Duck is traditionally carved in front of the diners and served in three stages. First, the skin is served dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The meat is then served with steamed pancakes (simplified Chinese: 春饼; traditional Chinese: 春餅; pinyin: chūn bǐng), spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Several vegetable dishes are provided to accompany the meat, typically cucumber sticks. The diners spread sauce, and optionally sugar, over the pancake. The pancake is wrapped around the meat with the vegetables and eaten by hand. The remaining fat, meat and bones may be made into a broth, served as is, or the meat chopped up and stir fried with sweet bean sauce. Otherwise, they are packed up to be taken home by the customers.

Duck has been roasted in China since the Southern and Northern Dynasties. A variation of roast duck was prepared for the Emperor of China in the Yuan Dynasty. The dish, originally named "Shaoyazi" (燒鴨子), was mentioned in the Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages (飲膳正要) manual in 1330 by Hu Sihui (忽思慧), an inspector of the imperial kitchen.The Peking Roast Duck that came to be associated with the term was fully developed during the later Ming Dynasty, and by then, Peking Duck was one of the main dishes on imperial court menus. The first restaurant specialising in Peking Duck, Bianyifang, was established in the Xianyukou, Qianmen area of Beijing in 1416.

By the Qianlong Period (1736–1796) of the Qing Dynasty, the popularity of Peking Duck spread to the upper classes, inspiring poetry from poets and scholars who enjoyed the dish. For instance, one of the verses of Duan Zhu Zhi Ci, a collection of Beijing poems was, "Fill your plates with roast duck and suckling pig".In 1864, the Quanjude (全聚德) restaurant was established in Beijing. Yang Quanren (楊全仁), the founder of Quanjude, developed the hung oven to roast ducks. With its innovations and efficient management, the restaurant became well known in China, introducing the Peking Duck to the rest of the world.

By the mid-20th century, Peking Duck had become a national symbol of China, favored by tourists and diplomats alike. For example, Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State of the United States, met Premier Zhou Enlai in the Great Hall of the People on July 10, during his first visit to China. After a round of inconclusive talks in the morning, the delegation was served Peking Duck for lunch, which became Kissinger's favourite. The Americans and Chinese issued a joint statement the following day, inviting President Richard Nixon to visit China in 1972. Peking Duck was hence considered one of the factors behind the rapprochement of the United States to China in the 1970s. Following Zhou's death in 1976, Kissinger paid another visit to Beijing to savor Peking Duck. Peking Duck, at the Quanjude in particular, has also been a favorite dish for various political leaders ranging from Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl

This was swiftly followed by a pile of large grapes presented on dry ice. I’m not sure what variety these grapes were but they tasted just like grape juice! It was lovely that they presented these as standard with the meal. Can’t have a Chinese meal without ending with fruit! These extras were a nice touch. ( complimentary dessert)
The reputation of Dadong may mean that it can rely on repeat business without having the best duck in the city, but it's fun venue and a tasty meal. Could be cheaper, but this is modern Beijing and one of the chains flagship outlets, what do you expect?

Da Dong Roast Duck (北京大董烤鸭店)
南新仓商务大厦1楼  甲
22 Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng, Beijing, China
+86 10 5169 0329


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