BEIJING: IF YOU DON'T LIKE DUCK..................
Well, that’s obviously not quite true as Beijing is proving, unsurprisingly, one of the best stops on my whole trip so far on the food front with some staggeringly good stuff ranging from street food in one of the many Huetongs for a paltry few Kuai to a meal at Huang Ting within the opulent Peninsular Hotel which set us back about Y400 ( still only about £35)
Best of all though, of course, has been the duck.
It is, I would imagine, what most visitors would think of when asked what they plan to eat when visiting the home of the XIX Olympiad and, from my conversations with locals, it remains a favourite treat for celebrating Beijingians ( I may well have made that last word up)
A huge number of restaurants offer “Whole Roast Duck” although you do still see signs for “Peking Duck” on older establishments which have not had any inclination to change their signage. I also saw one restaurant offering “Peeking Duck” which conjoured up images of one of our feathered friends popping his head around the corner of the kitchen door in the vain hope that he was going to be allowed to go and live in peace on a farm somewhere rather than suffer a quick exit, loving roasting and a final resting place on a wheat pancake. Poor soul.
Roast ducks come in many forms in Beijing, from the family style local restaurants where skin and flesh remain combined and the accoutrements are simple strips of cucumber, spring onions and a thick Hoisin sauce.
At the higher end, flesh and skin, are separated with the crispy goodness of the skin is laid across the lovingly shredded flesh. On the side, everything from strips of melon, apple, quince as well as the usual. Also, in competition with the hoisin is a sweet, sour sauce with a chilli kick.
On this visit, we tried two places.
The wonderfully named “ourown” restaurant, very near our hotel by Beijingzhan was a true family style place and my friend, Jackie Tang had called ahead to make sure that the “good chef” was still going to be there at 9pm as many places close around 10pm.
Two ducks were presented and then carved to one side of the table before being presented in a fairly rustic fashion. With skin and flesh together, the meat was more moist than the higher end restaurants which is how many Beijingians prefer their duck. It was also more oily which did not suit all of the table but left me and two other companions to polish off over 70% of what was offered while the others concentrated on two further dishes of sizzling beef and deep fried aubergine.
The Bengali in me was slightly disappointed not to be presented with the bones to gnaw on, but as we finished, the chefs came out for their own supper whch consisted of soup made from duck bones. Chef's perks I guess.
With a few beers, the bill came to a massive Y60 a head (about £4)
Last night, we went upmarket and headed to DongZhimen St, or “Ghost Street” as it is known by the locals because of the huge strip of restaurants all sporting red lanterns outside. This street is one of the area where the city comes to play at weekends and, also, the home of Huijia Yiyuan restaurant.
This time, for a similar sized party, two ducks were served with the skin taken off the flesh, then layered together so the lacquered outer could be placed on the the pancake to provide an initial crunch. With the added permutations provided by strips of melon and apple, we all tucked into this one too although it did not stop us trying added dishes of chicken with more garlic than I thought possible and pork ribs with plums.
This was only Y70 a head, so little more than our first experience but a world away in elegance and taste. Both worth trying though.
I had been disappointed, as I headed North in China, that I was seeing less and less Chinglish, that beautiful mix of English and gibberish that The Chinese use so well. The last picture , while being relevant to the subject at hand, shows that Beijing finally came up trumps.
Off to Mongolia, see you soon