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Friday, August 11, 2006

History of Beijing Roast Duck

Beijing Roast Duck has the reputation of being the most delicious food Beijing has to offer. Eating Beijing Roast Duck is regarded as one of the two things you are absolutely supposed to do while in Beijing. The other one is climbing the Great Wall.

The history of the roast duck can be traced back to as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) when it was listed among the imperial dishes in the Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages, written in 1330 by Hu Sihui, an inspector of the imperial kitchen. It was then made by heating the duck-stuffed with a mince of sheep's tripe, parsley, scallion, and salt-on a charcoal fire.

The two famous restaurants that serve Beijing Roast Duck are Bianyifang Roast Duck Restaurant and Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, both of which have a history of over one hundred years. They represent two different schools of roasting duck.



According to the local history, the earliest roast duck restaurant in Beijing was the old Pianyifang Restaurant, which opened during the Jiajing reign (1522-1566). It makes use of a close oven and straw as the fuel, which won't make flames go directly onto the duck. Before being put into the oven, a duck is filled with specially-made soup to make it possible to roast the duck outside and boil it inside at the same time.

The first restaurant to bear the name Quanjude opened in 1864 during the reign of the Qing Emperor Tongzhi. Due to its high standards, the restaurant's fame spread rapidly and for many years the supply of roast ducks could hardly satisfy the demand. For this reason, the restaurant was rebuilt and expanded in 1948. In 1954 a branch (known as Hongbinlou) was opened in West Chang’ an Boulevard and another in Wangfujing Street in 1959. Quanjude uses an oven without a door. After a kind of dressing being spread all over a duck, it will be hooked up in the oven over the flame coming directly from the burning of the fruit-tree wood and it will be done in forty minutes.

The ducks are raised for the sole purpose of making the food. Force-fed, they are kept in cages which restrain them from moving about, so as to fatten them up and make the meat comparably tender. Beijing Roast Duck is processed in several steps: first the ducks are rubbed with spices, salt and sugar, and then kept hung in the air for some time. Then the ducks are roasted in an oven, or hung over the fire till they become brown with rich grease perspiring outside and have a nice odor.

The duck is served in slices. First, the chef will show you the whole duck. Then, he will slice it into between 100 and 120 slices in four or five minutes, each slice with an equal portion of both skin and meat. Usually the duck is served together with special pancakes, hollowed sesame bun, green onions and sweet sauce. Dinners can wrap duck slices, onion, and sauce in a pancake or a sesame bun with their bare hands. Sometimes people would like to put in mashed garlic and cucumber or carrot strips as well. Some young women like to dip slices into white sugar directly. Other parts of the duck will be served as either cold dishes with its livers, wings, stomach, webs and eggs, or hot dishes with its heart, tongue and kidneys. The bones can even be decocted together with Chinese watermelon and cabbage.

The simple eating procedure is as follows: Pick up a pancake in one hand and, using a section of raw scallion as a brush, paint a few splashes of bean sauce on the pancake. Next, place the scallion in the center of the pancake, and with your chopsticks add a few pieces of duck, finally rolling it up for convenience's sale. Here then is one of the most unforgettable mouthfuls in all of Chinese cooking.

Recipe coming soon

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