Your First Peking Duck

Peking Duck (Bejing Kao Ya) is an eating experience, and one of those special things about dining in China that keeps things interesting. In many restaurants you need to order the feast a day or two in advance, though popular places and sometimes even smaller places on weekends have it readily available. You might need to check in advance. Be sure to ask the price as well, as in swank joints this can be expensive. In late 2005 in a smaller family restaurant in Hong Kong we paid about US$40 for a whole duck and the fixins' for four people.

Preparation can take place behind the scenes, or, hopefully, at tableside. Even if the waiter does not jump into the dissecting, ask for help so that you get more of the meat in the right size pieces. S/He'll use a cleaver or sharp nice to slice off little thumb-sized thin pieces. Some places leave the skin on in most part, while others serve the skin as a separate course of its own (most Chinese eaters love the crunchy texture of the skin).

Parts is parts as they say and a proper duck will arrive with its head on. Some folks eat the head, and the feet, and some don't. In our restaurant when we took these photos these sized us up as tourists and took the head and feet away, but in some places they would be served automatically to the head guest. If you have a preference, or a serious, young Donald Duck fan at the table, speak up.

Ideally Peking Duck is a feast meal, something special, and not just some Asian burger and fries you eat alone in a rush, so with luck there will be a bit of presentation involved here (though our waiter looked more sleepy than celebratory; maybe I should tip better). The it is up to you to put it all together.

With the plate of meat, and maybe an additional plate with the skin, you will get a stack of very thin pancake/tortilla- like wrappers, some green onions and a dish of semi-sweet sauce. Place one of the wrappers in your hand or on a plate, use the big spoon to smear on some sauce (not too much), then plop some onion and meat on with your chopsticks. Roll the whole thing up and fold up the bottom to avoid spillage, and enjoy. If you are not sure how to do all this, most waiters will be amused to show you.

The wrapped package can be hot with the meat inside, so kids should be careful. They should also watch out for dripping and squirting out the bottom of the wrapped morsel. Otherwise, this is all fun and good eating!

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