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Eating roast duck in the Hutongs of Beijing

Although my previous post about Chinese food may have indicated the contrary, there certainly is a whole lot more than scorpions and pig testicles to sample in Beijing.

Beijing is also known for its roast duck, a taste that is more than palatable to even the most conservative of western tastes. One night, after hearing glowing reports of a restaurant tucked away in the Hutongs, a group of us decided to investigate. About 20 minutes walk from our hotel we came across the alley that had been described to us. It certainly wasn’t the most inviting alleyway I’d ever seen; with public toilets and run-down stores greeting the eye. But what intrigued me was the fact that there was not one western face as far as I could see.

We set off down the alley with some trepidation – while we were greeted by a variety of pungent aromas, not one of them came from a roast duck. There were red-lit ‘massage’ parlours, tea shops, sweet stores, antique shops and restaurants, but they were all quite different to the shops we’d left behind on the main street. This was a local hang-out, and store-front signage here seemed to have fewer English subtitles. How exciting!

The chef carves the duck.

A few hundred metres down we came across it: a fairly traditional-looking building with a red-tiled roof and large windows. Here there was duck; through the steam we could see armies of kitchen staff hooking the glazed brown birds on a rail. This was the real deal.

We entered and were guided up two floors, making our way through a labyrinthine restaurant that obviously catered to the locals. We were seated at a large round table in a room that we shared with another party – a very loud group of half a dozen Chinese youths who were celebrating a birthday. We were seated and began to join in the fun.

And so our culinary experiment began; first with an array of starters like pak choi with mushrooms, fried rice, a range of soups and other unpronounceable delicacies, and finally with the entrance of The Ducks. We wrapped slices of duck in mini pancakes, adding sliced apple, onion and hoisin sauce to make a very tasty little parcel. When it was done we were served a duck soup using the remaining parts of the duck, and after that we were presented with the deep-fried carcasses. Needless to say, we were all quite overwhelmed by this point.

Most surprising of all however was the price. If you’re visiting from the UK, you can be sure to eat out at a fraction of the cost that you would pay in a British or European city. We left and continued to explore with tummies and wallets both feeling quite full.

If you’re headed for China, don’t be afraid to explore. And make sure you try some duck!

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