When i was growing up, Beijing was known in the United States as Peking, which is a more English version of the name. In junior high school, I suffered a teacher who called the city Beiping and spelled it Peiping. All of these names have some legitimacy, but the city is now Beijing, capital of the People's Republic of China.
Still, the code for the Beijing airport is PEK, and if you want duck cooked the Beijing way, you look for Peking duck on restaurant menus.
Duck was my goal on a recent evening in Beijing. My hotel, called Opposite House (more on that later), recommended Da Dong, a local chain of 10 restaurants, one a walk of about 15 minutes from the hotel, which made a reservation. I was glad for that, as the Da Dong line with 6:30 p.m. reservations was about 15 minutes, while people without a reservation numbered at least a dozen, crowding expectantly around a woman who called out names from three lists like she was offering buys on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. When I left Da Dong about 8 p.m., the cluster of waiting diners had increased.
Inside the restaurant, activity was no less frenetic. Diners talked on cell phones. Waitresses shouted food and drink orders. Quietest were the duck carvers, men in white who wore protective masks over their mouths and rubber gloves. They continuously sliced and piled portions of duck onto plates lined with lettuce, and I wondered how many ducks daily meet their demise for the diners at Da Dong.
I ordered half a duck, Caesar salad and a beer. The yellowish salad dripped with too much dressing, and the draft beer was overly frizzy. But the duck was terrific -- tasty, moist and not at all fatty. Total bill was less than $25.
My waitress showed me how to eat Peking duck, wrapping the meat in steamed pancakes with thin strips of onion, radish and cucumber on a bed of sweet noodle sauce.
I folded a pancake using my hands. The waitress deftly tucked it all together with chopsticks.
"Cleaner than using hands," she said. Next time.
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