Beijing Duck: where to go, how to order, and how to eat it
Oh, Beijing duck, what a beautiful and wonderful thing. Today I’m here to teach you just a little bit about Beijing duck. I’ll fill you in on where and how to eat Beijing duck. I’ll also tell you some of the best places in Beijing to get it, specifically Quanjude Roast Duck restaurant. So whether you’re living in Beijing, on holiday, or planning your next trip, I hope this post can help you on your roast duck adventure!
So first, a little intro on this popular dish. Beijing duck is commonly known as Peking duck, and this dish has been being made for 600 years! 600 YEARS! It is characterized by having very thin and crisp skin, and the bird is sliced in front of diners by the cook. The meat is also eaten with a special selection of fillings, which we’ll talk about later.
Where to get it:
Now, this duck is available all over Beijing, as well as other restaurants specializing in this dish throughout China, but two are historically known, and have now become household names: Quanjude and Bianyifang. Today we’ll talk about Quanjude, as this was the restaurant that introduced Peking duck to the rest of the world, and also, the restaurant of these two that I was able to visit while in Beijing.
But first let me tell you a little bit about chef Da Dong, a very famous Beijing chef who is known for creating “artistic conceptions of Chinese cuisine,” while at the same time, being a badass with Peking duck.
My first year living in Sanya, Chef Da Dong came and did a bit of a celebrity appearance at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, and my friends and myself booked a table to see this Peking duck experience for ourselves. In true fashion, a member of Da Dong’s team drove his cart up to the table, loaded with a full duck, knives, sides and all. We then watched in awe as he quickly, precisely, and perfectly carved the duck with ease. We were given plates of crispy skin, succulent meat, wraps and rolls, and sides. We were then greeted by a server who gave us a full tutorial of how exactly to eat this delicious duck in a variety of ways.
And now on to Quanjude. This place is a historical landmark, established in 1864, and has been graced by celebrities, dignitaries, and important government figures from over 200 countries. I had the honor of visiting the historical first location in Qianmen, Beijing with my family just last year. It was my family’s first trip to China, so we thought, what a perfect place to celebrate China and its beautiful culinary history.
Qianmen Street No. 30 Dongcheng Beijing China
The Quanjude restaurant itself was quite large, and let me warn you, very busy. We went early afternoon, so there wasn’t a wait, but the restaurant was completely full when we arrived, and there was a wait when we left. The menu is quite straightforward, with a picture menu, but there is no English on the menu, and the staff doesn’t speak English as well. If you have been living in China, and know the basics of food ordering, you should be able to get by without much hassle, but if the language is new or unknown to you, I do recommend bringing a translator or travel guidebook, or just keep on reading and I’ll teach you how to order! But don’t let this scare you or lead you to eat your Peking duck just anywhere. Trust me, this restaurant and overall dining experience is SO worth it.
Update: there now may be an English menu available, so when you go, ask your server: 你有英文菜单吗 nǐ yǒu yīng wén cài dān ma?
Peking duck is not just about the duck, but also about the whole experience of how to eat it and what with. So here I’ll give you the ins and outs of what to order and how.
For easiness here, I’ll walk you through how to order off of Quanjude’s menu, but any Beijing duck menu should look quite similar.
I recommend ordering the Quanjude Roast Duck Set Menu, 全聚德烤鸭套餐 quán jù dé kǎo yā tào cān, which will come with a full duck, and the pancakes, bread, and fillings to go with your duck. One set menu should be enough for 4+ people. Each set menu will come with the following:
- 1 roast duck, carved table side 烤鸭 kǎo yā
- A plate of thin pancakes 春饼 chūn bǐng
- A plate of small hollow sesame cakes, which look similar to small hamburger buns
- Scallions 葱 cōng
- Sweet bean sauce, similar to hoisin sauce 甜面酱 tiánmiànjiàng
- A tray or dish of mashed garlic, sugar, and cucumber 大蒜, 糖 和黄瓜 dà suàn，táng hé huáng guā
Make sure that you have enough pancakes and sesame cakes to feed your group if you have more than 3-4 people. To ask for an extra dish, you can say 我要再来一盘 wǒ yào zài lái yī pán.
There’s more to eating this delicious dish than you’d think, and now I want to tell you how to make the absolute most of your Peking duck experience.
Your chef will first come out to carve your duck, and this carving process is considered an art form. In fact, your chef can carve up to 120 slices in just four to five minutes. Be sure to watch closely, and don’t be afraid to snap some pictures as he works, or to applaud him when he finishes.
Next you’ll be served the rest of your ingredients: the crepe-like pancakes, sesame cakes, scallions, sweet sauce, garlic, sugar, and slivers of cucumber.
- The skin: The first bits the chef will slice off the duck will be the famous thin and crispy skin. Don’t think I’m crazy now, but dip this skin in the sugar. It is one of the most surprisingly delicious things to do. Try a couple bites of this decadent, sweet and savory goodness, and then move onto the famous wraps.
- The wraps: Oh the famous wraps. Now take one of the thin pancakes, spread on a little sauce, add a few slices of duck, a few slivers of scallion and cucumber, and then garnish with a tiny bit of garlic, and wrap. To wrap, fold up the bottom of the pancake, fold in the sides, leave the top open, and enjoy!
The sesame cakes: Split your cake open as you would a sandwich bun, and then fill with the same fillings as the wraps, and enjoy once again!
Also, if you’re interested in making and/or eating any other popular Chinese dishes, I highly recommend you check out my post on the wonderful deliciousness that is Guo Bao Rou!