This famous Chinese dish’s name is a total misnomer

Travel News from Stuff - 08-05-2023
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Peking duck, China.

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There are more than 4.5 billion people in Asia, spread across 48 countries, a continent home to thousands of micro-cultures and an uncountable number of cuisines.

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So could you possibly describe just one dish as Asia’s finest? Probably not. But still, if your life depended on it, you could say peking duck. This is an absolute classic, a Chinese dish served with pomp and fanfare, an event meal, a statement.

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To make peking duck, birds are plucked and cleaned, air pumped to separate the meat and skin, and that skin coated in maltose syrup before the whole duck is roasted in a hot oven.

It’s then sliced at the table, its best cuts served with steamed pancakes, sliced white leeks and cucumber, and a sweet bean sauce.

The offcuts can be stir-fried with bean sprouts, or sometimes served with noodles. This dish is succulent, fatty, indulgent, crisp, sweet, and just outrageously delicious.

Peking duck is not, in fact, from Peking, the Chinese capital now known as Beijing. The first recorded mention of roast duck in China is from 1275, in a text about life in Hangzhou, a riverside city near Shanghai.

By the early 1400s, the Yongle Emperor had moved his seat of power from Nanjing (near Hangzhou) to Beijing, taking the tradition of roast duck with him.

This was very much food for royalty until the mid-1800s, when a former poultry trader opened a roast duck restaurant in Beijing called Quanjude, and an obsession was born.

Though there are plenty of restaurants in the Chinese capital that have mastered the art of the roast duck, the absolute classic is still Quanjude – the original shop is in the Qianmen district (30 Qianmen St).

In Auckland, central city restaurant Huami cooks its duck in a modified pizza oven to dish up the more relaxed Cantonese style. Elsewhere, you can order ahead your duck from Beijing Duck Restaurant in Panmure or enjoy peking duck across four courses at Herne Bay’s Empress Garden. In Wellington, you can’t go past the suitably titled Peking House Restaurant at 15 Kent Tce.

Peking ducks are traditionally roasted in a “gualu”, a brick oven heated by fruitwood fire, usually peach or jujube. The ducks are hung above the embers and cooked until crisp. These days, however, most restaurants outside China use gas ovens.

Citing “stuff”