Dejah, you're very welcomed. Photographing, eating and writing about food is a sheer pleasure for me.
On with the show:Day Three
I had most of the day for my own leisure. I decided to maximize time by rolling two big tours into one day and ended up going with an organized commercial tour. The up-side was that I got to see both the Ming Tombs and Great Wall in one day. The downer was that the organized tour piled us into a deplorable tourist-trap for lunch - which was a cloisonne
restaurant... shop while you eat.
Conveniently, the restaurant was located near the Ming Tombs. I saw a good number other tour buses...
Most of the food was pretty unremarkable, and obviously catered to the American tourist palate, including a cold plate of (very American) ham, and even french fries (
The plate stacked on the french fries is stir-fry beef and onions.
But, thankfully a few dishes are worth commenting on:Lamb skewers
These babies were extremely succulent. While I was tempted to think they were all fat - but upon further inspection, and especially in the texture, it was just very very very tender meat - probably from the shoulder. These lamb skewers were slightly musky.
***Cabbage and oyster mushroom hot pot
The pot was presented at the beginning of the meal filled with cabbage and oyster mushroom. The server lighted the heater and poured in already hot pork broth and allowed the soup to simmer until we were done eating. Soup, as in the other restaurants, was enjoyed as the last course. Here again, the soup was clear and a bit bland - like dishwater... but the oyster mushrooms and cabbage did a lot to bolster the flavor.
Here's a picture of our whole table:
The little egg rolls in the foreground were very crispy - the inside was do sa
, sweet red bean paste.
After a good hike up and down the Great Wall (the Chinese are truly amazing people!), I headed back to Beijing to conduct some personal business. Dinner was with some acquaintences. Being my last evening in the capital city, they insisted (and I was pleased) to try some of Beijing's famous roasted duck.
Eschewing the self-proclaimed mecca of Peking Roast Duck, Quan Ju De
, supposedly a very good, but over-run-by-tourists madhouse, my trusty compatriots steered us to a more remote restaurant, Tong Fu Lin Roast Duck Restaurant
, tucked away in an inner courtyard behind the National Clothiers (Textiles) Association.
I was a little skeptical by the kitschy plated roast duck and over-turned cup & saucer over the doorway.
But, when in Beijing...
The inside of the restaurant is decorated in yellow, with muraled wallpaper of nature scenes of China.
First, our server presented us with some locally bottled Great Wall label dry red wine.
I tasted some - and would have to say that it paired remarkably well with the duck later in the meal.
Next, we were given a foretaste of the feature dish. The server presented each of us with a iceberg lettuce cup holding a nest of fried noodles holding crispy duck crumbles.
The duck was analagous to Western confit
, but instead, it had been fried crispy in a wok. As you can see, the crumbled meat was very dark (probably from soy sauce?). The textural play was just extraordinary - fresh, grassy and crisp (lettuce), crunch (fried noodles), and meaty and satisfying (duck).
If it weren't for the fact I wanted to save room for the Peking roast duck, I could easily have gone for another.
Then, we were assaulted with a number of hot dishes:Beef & Onions stir fry
. So-called because the fish is flipped inside-out, scored, batttered and deep fried som that the meat explodes out into pineapple-like looking chunks. The sauce is essentially just sweet & sour sauce.
***Bok choy with red bamboo
- I thought that the orange chunks on top were carrots. But, the taste was distinctly bamboo. I asked my companions, who were confused themselves. Some swore up and down that it was carrot. Other insisted it wasn't carrot, but it wasn't bamboo either. Inquiring with a server, it seems that the foreigner got it right - these were red bamboo shoots. They were great!
***Braised iceberg lettuce
- Just as other versions I'd had - steamed and covered in a thick brown sauce.
***Egg Drop Soup
After the soup, the server cleared some of the plates to make way for the feature presentation. First, he presented us with the roast duck's condiments:
1. Duck plum sauce
2. Shredded scallions and cucumber batons
3. Young garlic puree and large-grain sugar
Then the wrappers:
He explained to me that the way to distinguish good from mediocre wrappers is that you should be able to squeeze the wrapper up in your palm and then spread it back out without the thin skin sticking, wadding, or tearing. I tried. According to his explanation, these were spectacular - they were like wrinkle-free tissue!!
Throughout our duck tasting (which lasted approx. 1/2 hour), the wrappers, though cooled, never stuck to each other in the serving dish! I wish Chinese restaurants in the U.S. could duplicate this!!
A chef then carted out two whole roasted ducks to be carved table-side for the 8 of us.
The knife-skill was amazing. He dis-assembled two whole ducks within 5 minutes - making razor sharp edged cuts that separate the crispy skin then reconstructing the duck, piece-by-piece, sans
bones onto a cute little duck porcelein serving dish.
Here's the re-constructed duck served to us:
Here's another, tighter shot:
(Sorry it's sideways)
The duck was amazing. The meat was moist and surprisingly juicy. The skin was a honey-golden crisp - with just enough fat left underneath to make it a luxiurious eating experience without being excessively greasy.
The server proceeded to tell us the three most popular ways of eating Peking duck:
1. Traditional way: Scallion, cucumber, plum sauce and duck.
2. Local favorite: Traditional method + young garlic paste.
3. The third was was to simply take a thin shard of crispy skin and to dredge it through the sugar.
As the "guest of honor," the server asked me which preparation I would like to try first. Being a garlic lover - I told him to go for broke and give me the local favorite... when in Beijing... He then demonstrated how to properly wrap the duck and the condiments - with chopsticks - no digits, in the tissue-thin crepes
This was a party in my mouth. The garlic was so wonderful - young spring garlic is extremely pungent - added to the scallion, it was wonderful. The plum sauce, with its sweetness also complimented the crisp savory roasted duck skin. The meat provided a nice satisfying meaty texture while the cucumber, of course, a refreshing cool crisp snap.
The skin dredged in sugar was unexpectedly good. Not that I doubted two of my companions who were exclusive skin and sugar eaters, but I have to admit, I was not prepared for the complexity of flavors. The sugar, remarkably, brought out the depth of the smokiness in the skin. It was explained to me after I commented on it that the duck had been roasted over wood chips, that in part flavored the skin. However, when wrapped with the other condiments, the smokiness was overpowered by the pungent scallion/garlic and the saucy sweet plum sauce. Sugar, by itself enhanced the wood-smoked flavor. Exquisite.
As tradition would dictate, our last savory course was a soup. What better way to end the meal than with duck broth - essentially a cloudy stock made from the bones left over from the duck carving. This soup really did look like dishwater and tasted like salted water in which duck bones had been cooked:
For dessert, our server brought out some "taro pearl balls":
These little sweet treats were pounded taro rolled into balls, coated with Chinese vermicelli crumbs and deep fried. The outside fried noodles become airy and crisp, while the insides are soft, slightly gummy, and molten hot. Like most Chinese desserts, these weren't exceedingly sweet - just perfect.
Overall, I had a great time. It may not have been the *best* roast duck house in Beijing, but the duck portion of the meal was very good. I'm sure that finding the best roast duck house in Beijing is like find the best cheesesteak in Philly, or the best hot dog in Chicago - it just boils down to personal preference. I'd like to return to Beijing one day and try a number of other duck houses to make a more experienced comparison.
At any rate, I had a great time, and if you ever find yourself in Beijing, and without reservations at Quan Ju De, try out:Tong Fu Lin Roast Duck House
26, Che Men Wai Da Street
Zhao Yang District
(Inside the Clothier/Garment Association courtyard)
Edited by ulterior epicure, 24 August 2006 - 10:40 PM.