Monday, 30 January 2012

Beijing Eats: Peking Duck

Peking Duck
Da Dong, Beijing

Going to Beijing and not getting Peking duck would be rather like going to Argentina and not having a steak. It has to be done.
There are many places for Peking duck in Beijing and many guides telling you where you must and must not get it.
With our trip drawing to an end, we decided to visit one of the cities restaurants that catered especially for Peking duck. And as a change from the usual cheap eats cafes, to go to one of the higher end recommended restaurants- and so we found ourselves in Da Dong.

Da Dong was different to the kind of eatery we were used to- large and ornate, with huge wall panels and unnecessarily ostentatious chandeliers. But it was clean and bright, and had an amazing aroma of freshly cooked duck and delicate spices.

Before ordering our duck, we started with our classic dish of peanuts in vinegar, a personal favourite. Whilst picking at these, we studied the heavy duty menu, laden with beautifully presented, beautifully photographed dishes.
Before we had time to stray from the original plan, a waitress arrived, barking 'duck' at us in a manner that was more of an order than a question. So meekly we nodded.

Before the duck arrived, we were presented with individual enamel trays- rather like a very elegant TV dinner. This is something I hadn't encountered before with Peking duck, but highly approved of. There would be no waiting (im)patiently for the cucumber, or fighting over portion control with the soy, or any panic over how much spring onion was left in the bowl.

Each tray contained freshly grated garlic, sugar, grated pickled ginger, sliced spring onion and radish, and of course the thick, sweet Hoi Sin sauce.

The duck was next to arrive, sat fatly on a pile of entirely redundant lettuce leaves. It was a generous portion with a good duck to fat ratio- some of the cheaper places leave very little to eat, once the reams of fat have been greasily pulled away.

The duck was accompanied by 'duck soup'. This is traditionally served alongside Peking duck, making the most of the bird in true Chinese fashion by using every inch of the carcass by creating a soup from it's marrow. More often than not these days, duck soup is no longer served, and so we used this as a gauge for a good, traditional Peking restaurant. Da Dong safely passed the test.
Tradition aside, my soup went almost untouched- spare a few floating leaves of cabbage, there was very little to it, and very little flavour aside a slightly greasy saltiness.

The duck was devoured (good duck to pancake ration, though I believe we asked for extra pancake.) and the plates were cleaned away. My issue with duck is that I never find it entirely filling- but that's a problem of mine rather than the duck itself. Bizarrely, we were subsequently presented with a gum course- a sheet of Wrigley's chewing gum placed lovingly on a large plate with- even more bizarrely- a fork. This intriguing palate cleanser proceeded another unrequested (but appreciated) dish; a large plate of sliced watermelon and a pile of satsumas, presented on a grill over dry ice.

All in all the meal was a good one- in culinary respects, it was very good quality Peking duck. The meat was plump without being fatty and the condiments were fresh and true to the dish. Whilst I love the little local diners and cafes, the higher end restaurants (this meal still came to no more than £5 a head) present a far less greasy, delicate and often no less genuine fare.
The entire ambiance leaned a little to the bizarre side though, with the Waitress rushing us through the meal (the bill was presented whilst we were still eating and dishes arrived, unordered, whilst their predecessors were still making their way to our lips) and the bizarre effect of the chewing gum course and fruit on dry ice.
I would whole heartedly recommend getting Peking Duck if you find yourself in Beijing, and unusually for me, recommend going to one of the more well known Peking Duck restaurants- but if you like to make eating into an event, then maybe Da Dong is not the place for you...

For those inquisitive linguists out there- Da means 'big'. I'm just going to leave you with that thought.



  1. And the cigarette course? That needs an explanation, please!

  2. Hi! Thanks for the great information you have provided! You have touched on crucuial points! i bookmarked it and will be back to check some more later. Peking Restaurant

  3. Haha, some things there are just no words for, peter...

  4. Duck soup in Beijing is traditionally "very little flavour aside a slightly greasy saltiness." It used to be cooked after the meat was taken off the bird. The bones were then taken back to the kitchen and boiled with a few vegetables. Not a great deal of flavour and certainly greasy and salty.

    In Beijing the bird is almost always brought to the table where the meat will be removed and piled on a plate. Your's was clearly an upmarket establishment as the meat has very carefully been arranged on the plate. When I first visited Beijing 20yrs ago, your average state-owned duck restaurant would remove and shred the meat pretty rapidly and pile it on the plate without any finesse. You rarely see a duck brought to the table and the meat removed in Chinese restaurants in Europe.