Searching for Peking ducks starts with a short walk from Tiananmen Square to the central commercial district of Beijing and to the traditional eating street.
On that walk we pass a number of seemingly elegant restaurants including a Muslim restaurant owned by Dong, An Old Dong restaurant, and a DaDong (or Big Dong) Peking Ducks restaurant. But our choice is a Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, one we had visited 10 years before, and apparently the only things that had changed were the waitresses and the prices (and the Peking ducks).
In the 150 years since Quanjude was founded and began supplying the imperial roast duck recipe to commoners, over 115 million ducks have been slain cooked and quartered, and we assume, every one thoroughly enjoyed by the rich, famous and not so famous followers of the Peking Ducks. Premier Zhou Enlai was quoted to tell a dinner guest that ‘Quanjude implies perfection, union, and benevolence’.
This time our room (most guests dine in their own room) is on the fourth floor, along an ornate hallway, on the left, large for the four of us but not opulent. While my host is negotiating at great length, and with 1980’s calculator comparisons, the best value for the new lowest price, I remind myself of the internal design of these restaurants. On the back wall is a large carved wood scene in typical Chinese tradition – accurate in perspective and detail. Above the table is a traditional red-tasseled hexagonal light. We share a bottle of China Great Wall red wine, quite acceptable and pleasant tasting.
I have never fully comprehended the ceremony of the roast duck, so let me just create a history of the flow of foods. The first three cold dishes for the enthusiast of Peking Ducks included about 40 duck tongues, an adequate supply of sliced duck feet with a spicy hot mustard sauce, and slices of duck breast.
Before moving to the traditional Peking Ducks with roasted skin, pancakes, cucumber, spring onion and sauce, we sampled duck breast skin dipped in sugar. To round out the fare was a modified version of Sang Choy Bow with duck as the meat, followed by polished green beans, plus the reflection of the first dishes, a split duck head and the same cut from the other end. The last two dishes that followed were left abandoned until the doggy bags arrived, when about three quarters of the original servings were packaged up for later home consumption.
Replete from an elegant sufficiency, without empathy for the duck that had been our dinner guest, I meandered slowly back to the apartment hotel, dodging the lovely young things wanting to practice their English and whatever else with a tired old man and a hopefully healthy wallet.