Peking Duck
Peking Duck

There is an old Chinese chengyu (Chinese saying) that states, “If it looks like a Peking duck, swims like a Peking duck, and quacks like a Peking duck, then it is probably dinner.” Actually, there isn’t but it seems like there should be.

Some chefs equate eating your first Peking duck to a zen like experience only known to Buddha himself. But you won’t have to know any Tibetan mantras to achieve this heightened state. All you have to know is how to place the crispy duck meat inside a pancake, with cucumber, scallion onions, and sweet bean sauce.

The Peking duck was once relegated to only emperors in the Forbidden City and it is said that chefs invented the dish during the Yuan Dynasty in the 12th century. The Complete Guide for Dishes and Recipes, written by Hu Sihui, details the cooking process used to cook ducks. Peking was the former name of the current capital of China, Beijing, so the dish has always been associated with power, nobility and status in the Middle Kingdom. Duan Zhuzhici, a 17th century poet said, “When an official gives a banquet he will choose dishes to please each of his guests. For example, Bianyifang’s roast ducks.” Recipes from the Forbidden City began to be smuggled out onto the streets of Beijing and, after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the dish made its way to many of the Chinese restaurants throughout China.

Peking ducks have been known to change the world. They appeased the appetite of Henry Kissinger amid tense Sino-US negotiations, paving the way the for a Nixon visit to China. They star in commercials, the most famous being the Aflac duck. Peking ducks are also known as Long Island ducks because apparently one of those ducks ended up on the other side of the planet by digging a tunnel. In actuality, 9 Peking ducks were exported from China in 1873 to Long Island, which has become the number one source of duck meat in the United States.

In China, Quanjude is the most reputable place to eat Peking duck; it has seven locations in Beijing. Since 1864, this restaurant has cooked the best Peking duck throughout China. Quanren Yang founded Quanjude after arriving in Beijing from the Hebei Province and used only grain fed ducks to create a unique flavor. Their ducks have a protein content of 16% to 25% and are only 7.5% fats. Other notable patrons of the restaurant in Beijing include Fidel Castro, Hu Jintao, George Bush Sr. and Kim Jong-il.

Farmers feed ducks two to three times a day with the hopes that will achieve the ideal weight of three kilos. Ducks are then killed, plucked, disemboweled, and washed. In order to separate the skin from the fat, ducks are pumped full of air. A coat of soy or maltose sauce is placed over the duck and then the duck is hung overnight to dry. The duck is then roasted in a wood brick fire oven until the skin is crispy and brown. The wood used for the roasting is typically peach, pear or date in order to give the meat a unique aroma and taste.

Eating Peking Duck is a must in order to appreciate Chinese cuisine and culture. One duck can be shared between three or four people and can cost you around 300 to 400 RMB.