Remember when I said that Da Dong Roast Duck is probably the fanciest meal I will ever eat and feature on this blog? Well scratch that. This is the fanciest meal I will ever eat and feature on this blog. I’m sure of it.
I swear I’m getting more and more spoiled with every trip to Beijing. I’m being taken out to eat at more and more pricey places. The last time, my aunties took us to the famous Da Dong. And this time? Well this time was to an even more famous roast duck restaurant. In fact, the MOST famous one.
Quanjude is Beijing’s oldest roast duck restaurant, being founded in the year 1864 (over 150 years ago!). The name Quandeju is synonymous with traditional Beijing roast duck. This is the restaurant where foreign dignitaries – from Richard Nixon to Fidel Castro – and high profile visitors are brought to dine at when visiting Beijing.
The former leader used to choose the Quanjude whole duck meal for state banquets. Basically, what I’m trying to get at is that this restaurant is a pretty freaking huge deal.
I was lucky enough to eat here when we had a second family dinner towards the end of Chinese New Year (see first dinner here!). I was informed of its prestigious reputation, but I still didn’t expect toooooo much. After all, I’ve already had fancy roast duck. And in any case, roast duck is still just roast duck, right?? Most of them are good, even the cheap ones.
Oh how little I knew about my birth city’s culinary history.
There are multiple locations now, but we went to the one in Qianmen. This one is the flagship store with over 150 years of history. Upon walking in, you see the big dining area with super high ceilings and decorated in the traditional Chinese style. Nice yes, but also crammed full with tables. But this is not where we were to dine. We were ushered up the stairs and through the back to another section and into our own private room.
There was already a spread of appetizers out on the table. Everything was duck duck duck. Not a single part of that bird goes to waste at Quanjude. As the waitress introduced each dish, indeed some turned out to be “throwaway bits”, which I try to avoid, but I still made sure to try at least one of everything.
First, one of the more interesting appetizers: duck feet with mustard (a restaurant specialty).
I’m guessing this is the webbing part? It sounds weird but actually turned out to be not so bad! It was cooked extremely tender and didn’t really taste of much but the mustard dip complemented it very well.
Dates with sesame:
Walnuts with jasmine flower:
Moussed fish with egg cake:
Duck heart – this wasn’t too bad if you can get over the part about eating heart. It had a bit of a spice kick, so that probably masked any heavy heart taste. The flavor was quite good.
Duck liver (or foie gras if you want to say it in French) – everyone unanimously loved this! Quanjude makes it very buttery smooth.
After these appetizers were cleared, next came a few dishes. Of course, duck was the main feature again, cooked in a few different ways.
Duck tongue with fish soup – yep, that’s right, those are duck tongue!
Duck (thighs?) cooked over fire wood with crispy puffs. This was soooo good! The skin was charred to perfection and the meat juicy.
Duck breast with bamboo and long bean:
Another duck heart dish. I kind of forgot what this one tasted like, oops.
And then some mandatory seafood dishes, since it’s not considered a proper Chinese feast without a couple.
Spicy crispy shrimp:
Sweet and sour deep fried fish with pinenuts:
And of course there has to be an obligatory veggie dish: mushroom and baby Chinese cabbage
And now comes the star: the roast duck! For the duck feast, they calculate how many ducks to serve taking into account the number of people. For the ten of us, they decided on two and half ducks. As per tradition, the ducks are brought out to be carved tableside.
At Quanjude, every single duck has an ID number and certificate, from the very first duck roasted since the opening of the restaurant, a century and a half ago. This meal, our ducks both had ID numbers of 196,000,000 something. That’s almost 200 million ducks! My mind can’t even comprehend this kind of number.
I’ve already talked at length in two separate posts about Beijing roast duck and how to eat it (check out the more detailed one here), so don’t worry, I won’t get into it yet a third time.
Instead, I’ll explain a little about the process of creating this perfectly crispy-skinned yet tender bird. First, the duck is gutted and filled with boiling water. Then they’re hung inside an open oven that uses fruit-tree wood (such a Chinese date or pear trees) to create a fruity fragrance. They need to be constantly tended to and re-positioned so that they roast evenly. This roasting method creates a duck with tender meat and very thin and crispy skin.
What I really liked about Quanjude was that the meat was carved in three different ways. As usual the skin was carved out first, to be eaten on its own dipped in sugar.
I’ve already said before that the skin is the most important and most delicious part of a Beijing roast duck. It needs to be perfectly thin and crispy and fatty and melt in your mouth.
So, how did this skin compare to the other Beijing roast duck giant, Da Dong? Da Dong’s reputation is built around a modern healthier way to eat roast duck and so the skin was super light, not to mention beautiful and perfect in texture and presentation. Quanjude’s duck is roasted in the most traditional way, and the skin is noticeably heavier and more oily. But was it delicious? You bet!
Next, just the meat was carved and placed on another plate:
And lastly, meat with skin attached:
Duck meat itself doesn’t have much flavor, so you’ve got to have your condiments. Simple and traditional here: just sweet soybean paste, fresh green onions, cucumber, sugar, and minced garlic.
Two wrapping options were served: the traditional thin flour tortilla (super soft and warm here!) and sesame buns. I didn’t prefer the bun as I felt like it was rather dense and the amount of bread overshadowed the meat.
Instead, I made about a dozen little tortilla burritos!
So what happens to the duck carcass after all the meat is carved out? Well, like I said, no part of the duck goes to waste! The carcass is typically taken back to the kitchen and made into a soup.
We forgot to ask for this at Da Dong since were all too full, so this was the first time I tried the duck carcass soup. It was delicious. Creamy with a mild duck taste.
Of course a meal is not complete without some dessert! How cute are these duck shaped mini shortbread pastries?!
The other is a kind of flakey crust, slightly salted biscuit.
I was rolling out of there by the end of this meal, my tummy happy and full with duck.
I’m guessing that we got the whole roast duck banquet. The cost per person for such a set feast like this is… get this… 550 RMB, or almost $100 US. This is a ridiculously expensive price per Chinese cost of living standards! (Don’t think we’re rich though… one of the family members has a connection inside the restaurant, so let’s just say that we got a very generous discount.)
But don’t let this fancy banquet price scare you away! You can dine with the masses in the main section and get out for a very reasonable price of 218 RMB (or US $34) per duck. :P
So, was this meal worth the price? It was undoubtedly delicious and a truly unforgettable experience. But we all agreed that for much much cheaper, you can get roast duck somewhere un-famous and be just as satisfied. In fact, probably even more satisfied because you’re not spending so much money. The last family dinner, we spent only US $139 total for 9 people and it included a roast duck that in my opinion, tasted pretty damn good too. So in comparison, this was just an unnecessarily extravagant meal.
But am I complaining that I got to eat here? Definitely not.
What you’re eating at Quanjude is Beijing history and culture. Roast duck is probably the most famous traditional (and beloved) Beijing dish ever created, and it was with the founder of Quanjude that this hung-oven duck roasting method was invented. Super important people from all over the world have walked through its doors to taste the best of Beijing. Everything done here is in keeping to the truest, most traditional forms.
To truly appreciate this piece of Beijing culinary history, a visit is very much worthwhile. But if all you want to do is try some roast duck, then yeah, probably any place would suffice (because really, roast duck is delicious no matter what). Your choice. :)
Practical Information for Quanjude Qianmen (Flagship Restaurant)
- Opening times: 11:00-13:30, 16:30-20:00
- Address: 32 Qianmen Street (off of Qianmen Pedestrian Street)
- How to get there: metro exit: Qianmen Station
- Even though we had the duck banquet, you can order your own dishes from the very extensive menu of over 400 items. Aside from the whole roast duck, other restaurant specialties include: mustard duck web, boiled duck liver, seasoned duck gizzard, hot and spicy shredded duck wing, crystal duck delicacy, quick-fried duck heart, dry-fried four delicacies.
Would you eat here if you’re visiting Beijing?
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