Category Archives: China

peking duck in beijing: part 2

[so somehow you endured my rampage on peking duck in beijing and want to read more on said topic, eh (said with canadian accent)?]

we arrived in beijing on an early morning flight, and soon after dropping off our luggage at the hotel, packed ourselves into a taxi hurtling towards east 40th road bridge location of dadong roast duck restaurant.  the restaurant itself was rather curiously ensconced within the newly restored imperial granary.  there was, what appeared to be, a small museum to the side of the restaurant about the granary during the qing era.

a phalanx of valets, maitr’ds and greeters filled the entrance of the restaurant.  once inside the vestibule, we observed a small army of chefs loading, turning and removing perfectly golden peking ducks from the blazing hot brick oven.  the decor of the dining area took me by surprise.  i guess, the last time i went to dadong (albeit different location), i sat at a traditionally decorated chinese restaurant — clean with carved wooden chinese chairs and yellow table cloth.  this newest iteration of dadong featured black and silver as the primary colors. the table cloths were replaced by surfaces done up with a glossy, mirror like finish.  the dragon and chinese symbols remained but more muted than before.   same restaurant, same duck but re-packaged in shiny new garb befitting “nouveau china” and its nouveau riche clientele.

our waitress handed us a massive tome of a menu, weighing close to 5 lbs.  after flipping thru 30-40 pages, we settled on the duck, stir fried  baby snow peas shoots, gong bao shrimp and a small bowl of fried rice.  the menu contained tons of opulent dishes that we didn’t order: abalone, sea cucumbers, crab, etc.  i quite enjoyed the shrimp. the snow peas were well done, though nothing special.  surprisingly, the fried rice came about 30 minutes late and was nothing short of terrible.  fortunately, the duck made up for that mis-step.

the waitress placed the (optional; ~15rmb per person, i think) condiment platter for the duck on our tables.  it contained sugar, pickled vegetables, scallions, cucumbers, hoisin sauce, radishes and fresh ground garlic. we stared at it for about 5 minutes until the master duck chef appeared table-side to carve our duck into perfectly thin, super crisp slices, and then arrange them into a floral pattern on a platter. i wonder how many years of training it takes to become a duck carver?

we had only ordered half a duck, but were unable to finish — no doubt because hubs fell in love with the accompanying pancakes.  he started to eat the pancakes sans duck.  we went through two baskets of pancakes because of his affinity for them.  to this day, if you ask him what dish he enjoyed most in china, he’ll say the peking duck at dadong but really for the pancakes.  me, i liked the duck.  i found the duck flesh tender and the skin amazing light, airy and crispy.  i think we have a good system worked out.  one order of duck.  duck for me; pancakes for him . . .

dadong also serves the duck with shao bing (烧饼; it’s kind of like a flakey and puffy bread dotted with sesame seeds) and a duck broth soup — not pictured.  our bill came to around RMB400-500 for two people, an amount that is a bit exorbitant by local standards but reasonable for the quality of the meal.

the next night we headed over to peking duck, private kitchen (“PDPK”), a new duck restaurant that hadn’t been around the last time i stayed in the capital. PDPK is located in the ground floor of an office complex in the business district. it is much less opulent and over the top compared to da dong.  the restaurant’s chinese name (果果私房烤鸭) refers to the fruit wood used to roast the duck.  and indeed, upon stepping inside the restaurant the heady scent of burning fruit wood swept over us.

the interior of the restaurant is quite dark. it seemed as if each table was barely illuminated by the light from candles warming plates of duck placed on top.  the tables and benches are quite low to the ground, as if to replicate the sensation of being seated on a manchurian kang.

the chef at PDPK has a different style of serving peking duck compared to dadong.  once we placed our order (whole duck only), a small plate containing sugar and thin slices of duck neck skin appeared.  while the duck fat had been drained, the skin tasted much smokier and less airy compared with  dadong — then again duck neck skin does tend to be tougher than skin from the rest of the duck.

our waitress set the main platter of roast duck on top of a candle to keep it warm.  while artfully presented, the chef carved the duck in a manner that featured the duck flesh rather than the duck skin.  the skin had been sliced into thin slivers attached to duck flesh that really didn’t allow me to fully experience the joy of eating crisp duck skin by itself.

like at dadong, we were also served duck broth soup and pancakes.  hubs commented that the pancakes at dadong were thinner and less chewy compared with PDPK.  he liked dadong’s more, but he gobbled up a whole bunch of those wrappers nonetheless.

PDPK is good value for money, and at 99 rmb per duck, it’s the most affordable duck on my list (there are some local places that serve peking duck for 50-70 rmb).  i’d say that their duck on any given day is better than your average duck in beijing, and especially better than peking duck in nyc.

that said, da dong, for now,  still remains tops for peking duck in my book. . .

Da Dong: (大董烤鸭店–东四十条)
1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, Beijing, China
东四十条甲22号南新仓国际大厦1-2楼(东四十条桥西南)
Open daily 11am-10pm
Tel: 86-10-5169-0328
**there are several other locations in Beijing

Peking Duck, Private Kitchen: (果果私房烤鸭)
Vantone Center, 6A Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
朝阳区朝阳门外大街 6A号万通中心
Open daily 11am-2pm, 5pm-9.30pm
Tel: 86-10-5907 1920

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peking duck in beijing: part 1

i promised hubby that we would gorge ourselves on some of the best peking duck on the planet during out trip to china. we would only be in beijing for a day and a half, which would allow us to have two peking duck meals.  i suppose i could have squeezed in a third, but our cholesterol levels at that point might easily have shot into territories even beyond lipitor’s rescue.  a few weeks before i left for the trip to in late august, i started researching the best places to eat peking duck in the capital.  i began by looking for the  “top 10 / best of” lists, and surprisingly,  many of the lists i came across had not been updated in 5 years. given the amount of change that has been taking place in china, i would have expected the top ranks of duck houses to at least include a few new names.

after some digging, i compiled a short list of my own (see below), and decided to pick one old standby, Da Dong,  and one new place, Peking Duck, Private Kitchen to try.

tomato in tribeca’s short list of top peking duck houses (August 2010) — in no particular order and not by any means completely exhaustive:
(* indicates where we actually ended up going)

  1. Quan Ju De: (全聚德) this one has been around forever and was the first duck house i ate at in china about 15 years ago when i believe it was still a state-run affair.  nowadays it’s got franchises galore throughout china, hk and australia. the restaurant is frequently mentioned as being the place for eating duck, though i personally think that their standing has more to do with their storied 130+ year history.  since trying the restaurant 15 years ago, i have never gone back — we were served a duck with 1 inch of duck fat still intact. blubbery and totally inedible. interestingly my beijing friends from back then told me that the fatter duck was considered to be more of a delicacy.  i have to think that in the 15 years since my visit, they’ve managed to roast a leaner duck in accords with modern tastes.  perhaps it’s worth another look.
    Peking Duck: ~220 RMB; although prices vary by location (they used to have a foreign tourist section where prices were much higher than for locals, not sure if they still do).
  2. Made in China: (长安壹号) the restaurant is located inside the grand hyatt hotel in beijing.  it was the hottest peking duck house in town 5 years ago, and the duck, pricey by local standards, was extremely flavorful and tender. i thought about booking there, but got swayed by my old standby, Da Dong, instead.
    Peking Duck: ~250 RMB.
  3. Duck de Chine – 1949: (全鸭季) Y called up her friend in beijing to inquire about the best place for peking duck.  her friend mentioned this place.  apparently the duck is similar to da dong in taste but the place has got a nouveau modern china ambiance.  it’s inside a converted factory space and has an art gallery out front.  will have to try the next time i’m in beijing.
    Update:  Y just wrote me.  Apparently, she just ate dinner there and  thinks Da Dong is still better … that said, she thought their sauce was quite interesting–it had a yin-yang swirl effect…
    Peking Duck: ~188 RMB.
  4. Li Qun Roast Duck: (利群烤鸭店) my friend S dragged me to this place 5 years ago.  you have to go down some dirty alleys before finding this place inside a converted hutong (old style home). S had gone there before and swore that they served the best duck because they used some sort of special fruit type wood to roast their ducks.  i thought the duck was really nothing special, but what really got me was how dirty the place was.  i didn’t get sick or anything but felt rather uncomfortable the whole time there.  not sure if they’ve managed to remodel in the last 5 years. while it’s not the most expensive duck in the city, they’ve jacked up their prices in the last 5 years — no doubt because they were featured in all these tourist books (used to be under 100 RMB per duck, i believe).   sounds like they’ve managed to evolve into a total tourist trap to me.
    Peking Duck: ~190 RMB.
  5. *Da Dong: (大董烤鸭店) i fell in love with this restaurant 5 years ago, and i still love it today. if anything, they’ve managed to get better  with age.  they’ve got several branches around the city.  we went to their newest and ritziest location inside the old imperial granary.  they were never the cheapest duck house in town, and their prices  (especially for other menu items) have increased in the last 5 years. however, i think the quality is worth it.
    Peking Duck: ~200 RMB
  6. *Peking Duck, Private Kitchen: (果果私房烤鸭) great value for money. the duck is similar in flavor to Li Qun, but the place is a lot cleaner, more modern, and the duck a lot cheaper.  prices for other dishes were quite reasonable.  they are not super fancy like Da Dong but they get the job done.
    Peking Duck: 99 RMB

Reviews on Da Dong and Peking Duck, Private Kitchen forthcoming

sts (aka. sweet tangy spicy) pickled radishes

perfect pickled radishes is a matter of personal taste.  i like mine slightly sweet, slightly tangy, slightly spicy, and oh yeah, they need to have a crunch.  i started mucking about the kitchen the other day, and quickly threw together a pickling brine with the sichuan peppercorns i had hauled back from my trip to chengdu. i poured the brine over some radishes, and lo and behold, a few days later, hubs and i found ourselves crunching on some seriously delicious radishes.

i then spent the next two weekends making sure that i could reproduce the recipe.  i think i’ve got it down to a science now, or at least an easy to repeat routine. in my latest batch, i tossed in some sliced carrots as well to add some color.

i’m finding that the radishes are awesomely convenient and infinitely versatile .  i’ll toss them into salads, place them on top of sandwiches, or use them as a condiment to go along with some cold sesame noodles.  .  .

STS Pickled Radishes
(enough to fill a 1.5L Fido Jar)

Radishes 2 ¼ lbs (~1 kilo); I use daikon radishes because they are easiest to slice.  Red radishes can be used as well – a neat thing happens with red radishes. After a few days of pickling, the red skin color transfers from the radish to the brine, i.e. the brine becomes reddish and the radish is left white).NB: if you want some color, sliced carrots can be tossed in as well, but i’d keep the proportion sub 20%.
Fresh Garlic 3-4 cloves, peeled and smashed
Fresh Ginger About 1 inch cube, peeled and sliced
Sichuanese Red Peppercorns ¼ cup
Dried Red Chili Peppers ½ cup
Sugar ½ cup
Rice Vinegar 1 ½ cups
White Vinegar ½ cup
Mirin ½ cup
Sake ½ cup
  1. Wash, peel and slice radishes about 1/8″ thick.  It’s easiest to use a japanese benriner or mandolin.
  2. Toss sliced radishes in a large prep bowl with garlic, ginger, sugar, peppercorns and chilis.
  3. Transfer to Fido jar and pour vinegars, mirin and sake over.
  4. Clamp jar close and store in refrigerator.
  5. Radishes will be ready to eat in 2-3 days.

ningxia’s wolfberries (goji berries)

ever wonder what goji berries (also known as wolfberries) look like on the tree?  well there you have it.  the ones in photo above (from a roadside goji berry farm) are still green — they’re due to turn red in a few weeks.

ningxia province in china is one of the largest growers of goji berries in the world, and the quality of the berries is purportedly unparalleled. not exactly sure why, but they sure looked a lot larger in size than the tibetan goji berries i bought at costco a few years back.   the goji farmer we encountered explained to us that, in addition to being packed with antioxidants, goji berry trees are planted to stem the tide of desertification. (the things you have to worry about when the gobi dessert is at your borders…hmmm)

i think i’ll give a green thumbs up to the goji!

tastewise, goji berries can be a bit um medicinal. although for those who have acquired the taste since childhood, i’m told it can be rather comforting. for me, i find the best way to prepare them is to sprinkle gojis along with dates into a chicken or rib soup with plenty of ginger and rice wine to mediate the medicinal taste of the goji berries.  kinda like the one photographed in my prior post, though home versions tend to be a lot more generous with the gojis.

eating in ningxia: big mama’s dumpling house

okay, i admit i get my kicks out of translating chinese pronouns into english.  i mean, if i sent you off to find a restaurant called  “da ma jiaozi guan”  in one of china’s provinces least traveled by foreigners where it’s virtually impossible to find a cab during rush hour, and you didn’t speak chinese, your brain would be twisted into such a knot just remembering the pronunciation that you might give up on your search before setting foot into the place.  or at least, that’s what happens to me when i’m trying to learn a new language.  now, if i sent you to a place that i told you was called big mama’s dumpling house, you might in fact be running or leaping through the air in big bounds, until you crossed over the restaurant’s threshold.   dumplings, especially ones fresh made to order by hand, where you can see each indentation made by agile fingers, are delicious ,and big mama’s located in yinchuan city in ningxia province is such a place.

a bit on ningxia first:  ningxia is one of china’s lesser known provinces, and is  a hui (chinese muslims, one of 55 or so officially recognized ethnic minorities) autonomous region. it’s about the size of connecticut, located in northwest china, right below inner mongolia, to the left of shaanxi and to the right of gansu. the hui population comprises about 30%, although the majority are located in the south of the province.   we saw a few mosques in the city, and a few citizens dressed in traditional hui attire, but for the most part, yinchuan, the provincial capital, looks very han chinese.  according to our tour guide, about 98% of tourists to the region are domestic chinese, and the remainder being foreigners. unless you’re into desert formations, cave drawings or archaeological ruins from the  qin, western xia, han and ming dynasties, there really isn’t all that much to see.  Y wanted to go because it was one of two remaining chinese provinces she had not yet stepped foot in; now she’s only got one left.

we ate plenty of lamb at prior meals in authentic hui restaurants (more on that in a separate post), and wanted to take a break and eat something non-lamby. the tour guide mentioned, big mama’s as one of the better restaurants in the city.  big mama’s cuisine is actually a mainstay of northeast of china (shandong, beijing, dongbei) — geographically out of place but still expertly executed and worth a visit, if you ever find yourself in ningxia.

i found big mama to be a charming sort of place.  it reminds me of china from 10-15 years ago when most restaurants were run semi-canteen style (note: this means, that the waitresses don’t seat you at a table, you literally  have to stand next to a table that is close to finishing up, and stare at them until they leave. everyone was doing it and most tables that appeared to be wrapping up, had mini queues surrounding them.  if you haven’t got sharp elbows or a friend who does like Y to the rescue, i would advise going early, before the 6-7pm dinner rush).  big mama is a plain jane, but it’s that quality that reinforces the authenticity of its food.  the dumplings are delicious being handmade, and you can taste that artisanal quality in each bite of the steamed dumpling shells.  the wrapping all takes place in the back of the restaurant, where there’s a glass window installed that enables guests to look at the dumpling masters hunched over, making each crease and fold with lighting fast fingers. flavors are plentiful, the menu containing the dumpling section goes on and on and on for about 7 to 8 pages, if memory serves me right: seafood, vegetarian, pork, beef, lamb, chicken, with various herb pairings and seasoning combinations.

the dumplings are sold by the jin, a traditional chinese unit of measure that equates to 500g or a half kilo.  you can think of it as a wee bit more than a lb, if you’re not familiar with the metric system.   Y and i ordered two plates of dumplings, one vegetarian steamed and one pork and parsley boiled.  there was also a pan-fried option, which we skipped.  we had plenty of leftovers, which the restaurant doggy bagged for us by dumping them into rather flimsy, transparent plastic bags.  we weren’t the only ones, just about every customer leaving the restaurant, walked out with clear plastic bags filled with dumpling leftovers.

in addition to dumplings, y and i ordered a delicious claypot chicken and pork rib soup stewed with goji berries/ wolfberries (a specialty of the area) and red dates (another local produce) and my personal favorite:  chinese french fries.  imagine thin slivers of potato stir fried with bean sprouts, piled high. hello mountain of joy!

大妈饺子馆 (Da Ma Jiaozi Guan)
解放东街新华百货超市东门店
宁夏银川

Jie Fang Dong Jie, Xin Hua Department Store, East Gate
Yinchuan, Ningxia, China
+86 951 607 2378

pandas and peppercorn

i found myself on the other side of the world, reunited with Y for another wacky adventure through some remote areas in china.  we ended up  doing a fly-by tour of  inner mongolia, ningxia and sichuan. the trip was a bit of a blur, and in my  jet-lagged state, i’m kind of piecing things back together.  bear with me while i try to clear out of my dazed and confused state . . .

visiting the pandas at the chengdu panda base was by far the highlight of my trip.  i spent about 2 hours running through the reserve, ooo-ing and aahing at the cute and cuddly creatures.  couldn’t get enough of them!  for a RMB1,000 donation, a visitor could hug a one year old live panda in one’s arms and have her picture taken.  i thought about doing so long and hard; ultimately, i decided against it — a decision that i still  sorta regret. i guess i’ll have to go back one of these days.

afterwards we headed back into downtown chengdu, and ate a hot and spicy dinner at 外婆乡村菜 (roughly translates into Grandma’s Country Cooking restaurant) based on our cabbie’s recommendation.  it turned out to be a mid-scale chain restaurant with 5-6 different locations.  we ordered a few classic sichuanese dishes that were tasty — although i had to say a bit different from how my very authentic sichuan grandmother prepares them.  so, for example, my grandmother makes her 粉蒸肉 (powder steamed pork) with pork ribs and taro and without chili peppers. the version we got at the restaurant ended up stewed in chilis, minus the taro,  fashioned out of a very fatty pork belly, and accompanied with some pancakes for wrapping.  hmmm . . .

we couldn’t find an available cab after dinner, and Y and i resigned ourselves to walking back to our hotel.  on my way back, i came across a newly opened store selling sichuanese delicacies.  they had spicy beef jerky, tea smoked duck, hot sauce, and most importantly, mouth numbing sichuanese peppercorns.  you know, the kind that until recently was contraband in the US (the ban has since been lifted). [fuschia dunlop has got a whole chapter on the subject in her book Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, which i found enjoyable].  i snagged a few bags to bring back with me, and am now toying with a recipe that incorporates the peppercorns. more hmm. . .

here’s what i did with some of the peppercorns:
sts pickled radishes

 

Grandma’s Country Cooking
外婆乡村菜(西体店)
四川省成都市金牛区西体路2号, China
+86 28 8767 0410