The Quanjude Restaurant, the largest
roast duck restaurant in Beijing, opened for business
in 1979. Located near Hepingmen Gate (Peace Gate), it
has a floor space of 15,000 square meters divided into
41 dining halls, including one, which can serve 600
customers simultaneously. The dining halls reserved
for overseas guests can accommodate a total of 2,000
diners, and include a hall where all-duck banquets in
which all the dishes are made from parts of the duck
can be served to 600 people. Filled to capacity, Quanjude
Restaurant can serve as many as 5,000 meals a day.
The art of roasting ducks evolved from
techniques used to prepare sucking pigs. For more than
a century, specialized chefs have developed the idea
that the skin of the duck should be so soft and crisp
that it melts in the mouth. In applying the traditional
method of preparation, the chefs at Quanjude pay particular
attention to the quality of the duck, the auxiliary
ingredients and the type of wood burned in the oven.
Special farms supply plump Beijing ducks weighing an
average of 2.5 kilograms each. The two famous Beijing
condiment shops, Liubiju and Tianyuan, supply the dark
tangy bean sauce spread on the pancakes. The fragrant
sesame oil and refined sugar are also specially selected.
Finally, only the wood of fruit trees such as date,
peach and pear are used in the roasting process to give
the meat its unique fragrance.
The preparation of the dish requires
a series of complicated steps, which include inflating
the unbroken skin like a balloon so that it roasts just
right. Quanjude employs chefs who specialize in these
techniques, while other chefs prepare the non-duck dishes.
Whereas in the past the restaurant's staff numbered
no more than 40, it has at present grown to over 1,000.
Among them are chefs and managers with records of 40
or 50 years of faithful service.
The slicing of the meat from the carcass
of the duck is an art in itself. A skilled chef is able
to cut between 100 and 120 slices in four or five minutes,
each slice with an equal portion of both skin and meat.
Inventiveness is another quality cultivated at Quanjude.
One seasoned chef has mastered more than 80 dishes made
from the duck's innards, head, wings and webs. A selection
of these dishes, whether hot, cold, boiled, fried, stewed
or pickled, will be the makings of an all-duck banquet.
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. These additions, however, still did not solve
the problem, and with the opening of the Quanjude at
hepingmen in 1979, it was no longer necessary to make
a reservation a week in advance to taste Beijing's most
famous culinary delight.
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.
Details regarding the cooking process were also described
in this early cookbook.
In the early 15th century, when the
Ming Dynasty capital was shifted from Nanjing to Beijing,
roast duck remained one of the famous dishes on imperial
court menus. According to the local history, the earliest
roast duck restaurant in Beijing was the old Bianyifang
Restaurant, which opened during the Jiajing reign (1522-1566).
Distinct from the method in which the duck is hung from
a hook in the ceiling of the oven and roasted over and
roasted over burning wood, the Old Bianyifang Restaurant
roasted its ducks with radiant heat. The walls of the
oven were first heated with sorghum stalks whereupon
the duck was placed inside and cooked by the heat given
off by the walls. A duck roasted in this manner is crisp
to the touch and golden brown in appearance; its flesh
is both tender and tasty.
During the Qianlong period (1736-1796),
roast duck was a favorite delicacy of the upper classes.
According to Recipes from the Suiyuan Garden, the famous
cookbook written by the poet and gourmet Yuan Mei, "Roast
duck is prepared by revolving a young duckling on a
spit in an oven. The chefs of Inspector Feng's family
excel in preparing this dish." Other scholars,
after dining on roast duck, were inspired to poetry.
In one collection of old Beijing rhymes (Duan Zhuzhici)
one of the poems reads: "Fill your plates with
roast duck and suckling pig." Another contemporary
annotation reads: "When an official gives a banquet
he will choose dishes to please each of his guests.
For example, Bianyifang' s roast duck"
To satisfy the growing demand for roast
duck, and with an eye on the profits to be made from
a good name, many restaurants opened from a good name,
many restaurants opened under the Bianyifang name. In
fact, in 1926, nine roast duck restaurants in Beijing
carried this name. In the late 1960s the Bianyifang
Restaurant's name was changed to the Chongwenmen Roast
Duck Restaurant, but in 1979 it resumed its former title.
Its menu includes more than 20 traditional duck dishes,
including the Four Delicacies: wing and web, liver,
heart and pancreas.
We have given much information about
the history of this noble dish but none at all on how
it is eaten. The simple 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.
Note: The roast duck restaurants of
Beijing are distinguished by their nicknames: the Big
Duck, on Qianmen Avenue, an older restaurant not described
above; the Small Duck, the old Bianyifang Restaurant;
the Wall Street Duck, the Quanjude Restaurant, the largest
and newest addition to the Beijing "duck family"
at Hepingmen Gate (described above); And the Sick Duck,
so called due to its proximity to the Peking Union Medical
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