Restaurant: Moongate Garden
City: Milpitas, CA
My aunt and uncle from the Mojave Desert is in town for my cousin’s baby shower, so I had dinner with relatives from my dad’s side!
My dad is the youngest boy with 7 siblings. It’s really rare to have all of my dad’s siblings in town, as he also has a sibling in New York, Texas, and Virginia. He has two siblings in the same town I live in. So, when I have dinner with my aunts and uncles here, it’s usually with the ones in town and the ones from the Mojave Desert. When that happens, one family would take turns treating all of us to dinner.
Tonight’s dinner was at a Chinese restaurant in Milpitas. They have big portions for a reasonable price! One of the dishes we had was the Peking duck! It’s traditionally eaten with the steamed buns, hoisin sauce, and onion. The duck is fatty, oily, but oh so gooooood!
Each restaurant has its own way of preparing and serving Peking duck; some may serve with a half-opened steamed bun and some with a thin sheet of steamed “pancake”.
And here’s the info from Wikipedia:
Peking duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era. The meat is prized for its thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with scallion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce with pancakes rolled around the fillings. Sometimes pickled radish is also inside, and other sauces (like hoisin sauce) can be used.
Duck has been roasted in China since the Southern and Northern Dynasties. A variation of roast duck was prepared for the Emperor of China in the Yuan Dynasty. The dish, originally named “Shaoyazi” (燒鴨子), was mentioned in the Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages (飲膳正要) manual in 1330 by Hu Sihui (忽思慧), an inspector of the imperial kitchen. The Peking Roast Duck that came to be associated with the term was fully developed during the later Ming Dynasty, and by then, Peking Duck was one of the main dishes on imperial court menus. The first restaurant specialising in Peking Duck, Bianyifang, was established in the Xianyukou, Qianmen area of Beijing in 1416.
By the Qianlong Period (1736–1796) of the Qing Dynasty, the popularity of Peking Duck spread to the upper classes, inspiring poetry from poets and scholars who enjoyed the dish. For instance, one of the verses of Duan Zhu Zhi Ci, a collection of Beijing poems was, “Fill your plates with roast duck and suckling pig”. In 1864, the Quanjude (全聚德) restaurant was established in Beijing. Yang Quanren (楊全仁), the founder of Quanjude, developed the hung oven to roast ducks. With its innovations and efficient management, the restaurant became well known in China, introducing the Peking Duck to the rest of the world.
By the mid-20th century, Peking Duck had become a national symbol of China, favored by tourists and diplomats alike.
Rasing the Duck
The ducks used to prepare Peking Duck originated in Nanjing. They were small, had black feathers, and lived in the canals around the city linking major waterways. With the relocation of the Chinese capital to Beijing, supply barge traffic increased in the area. Often these barges would spill grain into the canals, providing food for the ducks. By the Five Dynasties, the new species of duck had been domesticated by Chinese farmers. Nowadays, Peking Duck is prepared from the Pekin duck (Anas platyrhynchos domestica). Newborn ducks are raised in a free range environment for the first 45 days of their lives, and force fed 4 times a day for the next 15–20 days, resulting in ducks that weigh 5–7 kg (11–15 lbs). The force feeding of the ducks led to an alternate name for the dish, Peking Stuffed Duck (simplified Chinese: 北京填鸭; traditional Chinese: 北京填鴨; pinyin: běijīng tián yā).
Fattened ducks are slaughtered, plucked, eviscerated and rinsed thoroughly with water. Air is pumped under the skin through the neck cavity to separate the skin from the fat. The duck is then soaked in boiling water for a short while before it is hung up to dry. While it is hung, the duck is glazed with a layer of maltose syrup, and the inside is rinsed once more with water. Having been left to stand for 24 hours, the duck is roasted in an oven until it turns shiny brown.
Peking Duck is traditionally roasted in either a closed oven or hung oven. The closed oven is built of brick and fitted with metal griddles (Chinese: 箅子; pinyin: bì zi). The oven is preheated by burning Gaoliang sorghum straw (Chinese: 秫秸; pinyin: shú jiē) at the base. The duck is placed in the oven immediately after the fire burns out, allowing the meat to be slowly cooked through the convection of heat within the oven.
The hung oven was developed in the imperial kitchens during the Qing Dynasty and adopted by the Quanjude restaurant chain. It is designed to roast up to 20 ducks at the same time with an open fire fueled by hardwood from peach or pear trees. The ducks are hung on hooks above the fire and roasted at a temperature of 270 °C (525 °F) for 30–40 minutes. While the ducks are cooking, the chef may use a pole to dangle each duck closer to the fire for 30 second intervals. Almost every part of a duck can be cooked. The Quanjude Restaurant even served their customers the “All Duck Banquet” in which they cooked the bones of ducks with vegetables.
The cooked Peking Duck is traditionally carved in front of the diners and served in three stages. First, the skin is served dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The meat is then served with steamed pancakes (simplified Chinese: 春饼; traditional Chinese: 春餅; pinyin: chūn bǐng), spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Several vegetable dishes are provided to accompany the meat, typically cucumber sticks. The diners spread sauce, and optionally sugar, over the pancake. The pancake is wrapped around the meat with the vegetables and eaten by hand. The remaining fat, meat and bones may be made into a broth, served as is, or the meat chopped up and stir fried with sweet bean sauce. Otherwise, they are packed up to be taken home by the customers.
If you’re in Beijing, be sure to check out the newly opened Roast Duck Museum! It was opened to celebrate the 150th anniversary of restaurant chain Quanjude that is most famous for its roast duck. Here’s the info, from thebeijinger:
Beijing has a brand new museum to add to its wacky, and oddly specific, collection (see also: the Watermelon Museum or the China Honey Bee Museum): a roast duck museum.
The museum celebrates the 150th anniversary of Quanjude, Beijing’s most famous roast duck brand (although in my opinion, not its best). Located at the brand’s Hepingmen branch, the 1,000 square meter location touts over 500 duck-related exhibits, including a coupon for duck dating back to the Qing Dynasty, adverts from the Republican era and endless photos of various celebrities enjoying their kao ya.
Along with the museum, Quanjude also celebrated the sale of its 196 millionth duck. As the WSJ comments, this being China and all, the details of how they came up with this figure are characteristically fuzzy.
As of last week, each duck sold at Quanjude is accompanied by a souvenir “ID card” so if you are that way inclined you can boast you were the one who ate the 196,001,623rd bird.
Genuine cultural significance or shameless marketing ploy? We’ll let you be the judge.
The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm, free entry.