I’m a ruined woman. Tacos, 64″ pizzas, pasta, french bakeries, ice cream, all-you-can-drink, etc. etc. etc. insert all unhealthy foods/beverages here, etc. etc. etc.
I did not have access to most of things in Hohhot. Even if I had access to the ingredients, I didn’t spring for them because I was great at maintaining my health by going to a local butcher and farmer’s market. But Beijing offers delivery burritos at strange hours of the night. Would you say no to that? WOULD YOU?
Okay, I’ll calm down. No wait. Now I can’t calm down because I want to order a burrito. No guac though. Too expensive.
On Halloween the boyfriend and I decided to be lazy and do nothing, which meant going to some hole in the wall and getting 12RMB meals consisting of meat, veg, and rice. Not a bad buy. But as we were walking down the street, we found something. Something that made me not care that I was practically in pajamas. We found a Beijing duck house that was beckoning us to come in and dine.
Being the curious couple that we are, we took a peek inside and were doused in the aromas of crackling (not quacking) duck being roasted in a giant brick oven. We looked each other in the eye and telepathically decided to up our 24RMB hopes into a 300RMB reality. Dinner was on.
Greeted with some snackies, we put our names on the waiting list and sat down next to the showcased brick
oven duck roasting area. A pond’s worth of ducks were hanging by their necks being slow roasted, the fire becoming ablaze with each drop of fat hitting flame. Each one of them looking more succulent than the last.
The restaurant had a full house and there wouldn’t be a table that didn’t order the duck, meaning we’d be putting in some wait time.
Before I go on to share this meal, I have to say that it way by far the most artistic dining experience I’ve ever had. I’ve eaten a lot of food over these last three years, and this meal gave me a whole new perspective on Chinese culinary traditions. If you’re a chef and you’re reading this, you’ve probably got some stepping up to do.
Wénsī Dòufu Tāng – 24RMB
Wénsī is the name of a monk who created this incredibly artistic soup. Because monks are vegetarian, it usually requires some creativity when thinking up new dishes. Legend has it that this dish made up of silken tofu has been sliced 1000 times per block, resulting in tofu as thin as a strand of hair. To say the least, Wénsī clearly outdid himself. For non tofu lovers, this is a perfect starter, as the flavorless tofu soaks up the rich broth of ginger, duck marrow, and scallions.
Chǎo Zhúsǔn – 36RMB
Bamboo shoots are my favorite vegetable that I always forget to eat. They can take on so many textures depending on how you cook them. In this case, they were deep fried and then sautéed with red Thai chilis, celery, and pork in soy sauce in garlic. This crunchy vegetable harmoniously intertwined with the tofu soup before our main course.
Běijīng Kǎo Yā – 180RMB
This is the bread and butter of Beijing. I’m ashamed to say it took me three years of living in China before I indulged in what is known as Peking Duck in the west. This is something you can only do in China though. You can try to find a good Beijing Duck somewhere else in the world, and I can promise you, nothing will ever compare.
The chef arrives and sets up beside our table. Even though every patron has seen this countless times in their lives, they all stop and stare and watch how the chef will turn a porcelain white plate into a canvas, in which he will decorate with perfectly carved duck. When the first incision is made, a burst of smoke escapes. He starts by slicing off the fatty skin with elegant precision. Once the skin is off, the chef sets it aside and and begins to work on carving the breast. You can see our vine below for how the magic is done:
The chef makes my heads spin. He is simultaneously deconstructing and reconstructing the smoked duck without missing a beat. He treats it as a puzzle he’s put together countless times.
From the top left there is minced pickled mushrooms, minced pickled radish, hoisin sauce, julienned cucumbers and leeks, coarse sugar, julienned pickled mustard root, and pressed garlic.
The waiter takes a piece of the crispy duck skin and coats it in sugar for me, because I’m a lady:
Yummy. After watching the art take place in front of us, dinner is served and we get to quackin’.
You’ll carefully peel off one crepe, add the duck, and whichever condiments you like.
Because I am a chopstick master, I can roll it up without my hands.
Not too grossed out by that last part? Great! Apply today and let’s start sharing some meals together!