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Day Three: Da Duck at Da Dong

June 4, 2015

When I went to Paris I had what turned out to be an achievable goal, and that was to eat two loaves of bread and two different cheeses each and every day. It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing.

The Beijing trip started out with an entirely unrealistic goal, and that was to eat a duck a day. Not just any duck mind you, but the city’s signature dish, Peking duck. Before I left for China I printed out several lists of the best places to get Peking duck in the city. And all of them had different top picks, but many of the names were similar across the board.

I suppose there was duck on each of the four full days we were there. I had the cold sliced duck on day one and the duck wrapped in a fried pancake on day two. But time was running out, and I was determined that I’d get Peking duck on this third day.

There was just one problem.

When you order Peking duck, you are ordering a whole duck. Really, it’s a dish that’s meant to be split with four people as part of a banquet. Mrs. Fussy was working, and I was exploring the city on my own. So that meant I would have to eat the whole bird myself.

This would require preparation.

Skipping breakfast wasn’t an option. Mostly because I couldn’t bear to let a day pass without visiting my new friends at the corner dumpling shop. So that Friday morning I ordered a modest amount of food—four dumplings—spicy noodle, ma po tofu, greens with mushroom, and three delights (mystery meat with shrimp). There was also a fresh ground soybean milk to wash it all down.

The plan was to eat a relatively early lunch, so I could spend enough time that afternoon walking off my gluttony. That way, I could consider another meal around supper time. The restaurant opened at 11am so I took the train down to the nearest station and discovered, quite by accident, that the station exited into a super-gigantic mall. More precisely, the incredibly large international food court of a super-gigantic mall.

But I was not going to be lured by temptation. I had a date with a duck. However, I was still a bit early, so I walked around and explored in the air conditioned mall. Oddly, the food court contained a Sizzler Steakhouse. Speaking of American fast food chains, a few were well represented all over Beijing. The locals seemed to love KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks.

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To say I had a “date with a duck” may be overstating it. DaDong is a fancy restaurant, and I had no reservations. But I figured showing up right when they opened would work out in my favor, and it did.

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However, they were perplexed by the strange American who walked in by himself and ordered no other food than just one whole VIP duck. There are two duck choices, the regular and the VIP. The VIP gets fed a richer diet and is only a couple dollars more, so as far as I could tell, the choice was pretty clear.

Did I mention the duck takes an hour to cook?

So while I waited, I nursed a glass of Elizabeth Melon juice, which was sweet, refreshing, and appetite stimulating. I also ordered a glass bottle of Badoit sparkling water. It’s almost impossible to get in the US and it’s a lovely mineral rich water with small bubble structure. I was thrilled to find it and pay the very reasonable price for this white whale of bottled waters.

The wait also gave me some time to peruse the massive menu and long for all the dishes I wanted to eat, but knew in my heart of hearts would just be an obscene amount of food. You know, like the fried duck hearts, or an order of noodles. But I kept my eyes on the prize.

Eventually, the duck came. All for me. And it was magnificent. Carved and plated tableside, the carver handed me a hot piece of crispy duck skin to dip into a pile of granulated sugar. That produced nothing short of a cascading sense of joy from the pleasure centers of my brain over my face, past my duck fat glistened lips, and down through my body.

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Besides that first bite, probably the most remarkable thing about DaDong’s Peking duck service was the tenderness and delicacy of the flour pancakes. Those were ethereally thin and delightfully silky.

The waitstaff seemed concerned for me. I’m pretty good at using chopsticks. Actually, I’m quite good. But I swear nobody could get those pancakes separated without using their hands. First they brought me a fork and knife. Later they brought me a plastic glove. Harumpf.

It took me a full hour of eating, but I finished that sucker, brain and all. Yeah, they split open the duck’s head with a cleaver so you can eat the brain. It’s good stuff. And while I desperately wanted to have a small glass of moutai, I didn’t want to be further dehydrated for my excursion to The Forbidden City.

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Again. So big. Individual people walk through enormous gates into the giant plazas, and are made to feel so small. But it was a hot day, with direct sunlight, and no shade in those central courtyards, so I stuck mostly to the western edge of the city where I could catch some shade from the wall.

Shade was my ally. Signage turned out to be my enemy. Because while The Forbidden City was easy to enter (after getting through security), I couldn’t quite find my way out.

There was an interesting fellow who was trying to run a scam on me, and I warily accepted his help. I couldn’t figure out his angle, but he offered to take me on a free private tour of the adjacent garden which would bring me to the Tiananmen East train station. I had to pay a modest entry fee (less than $.50) but he had to pay nothing. It was highly suspicious.

In the end he desperately wanted to get me into a doorway marked “Exhibition Hall” to see his calligraphy. That was the angle. I politely but firmly refused and I was on my way.

I did take one quick side trip in one final effort to find the noodle shop that eluded me on day two. But once again failed. So I grabbed a boba tea and headed back to meet Mrs. Fussy and her colleagues for dinner.

Really, I should have gone for the sure thing and headed to Wangfujing for the stinky tofu. I just couldn’t resist the siren song of hand pulled noodles (and this time after re-consulting the internet, I thought I had a better sense of its location).

Still, if I found the noodle shop I would have missed out on dinner with Mrs. Fussy.

Banquet style meals are really a lot of fun. In some ways I did miss being in control of my culinary destiny, but it led me into flavors and dishes I wouldn’t have otherwise tried. Like the wood ear and lamb belly soup with a white broth that was remarkable in its intensity of flavor. There were also pickled cucumbers, noodles with dried shrimp, fried meat stuffed pancakes, and something resembling samosas.

It was a good meal, to be sure. But the best dinner of the trip would be the last.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2015 10:42 am

    Great job, fussman. If there’s anyone that can eat an entire duck, it’s you.

  2. Eamon Millar permalink
    June 4, 2015 11:26 am

    This sounds like an incredible trip. It was a great read. A duck a day is a noble goal, but I’m not so sure about the duck brain. But, when in Rome….

  3. June 4, 2015 11:27 am

    Man, this sounds like an incredible trip. A duck a day is a very noble goal. I’m not so sure about the duck brain though. But, when in Rome… This was a great read.

  4. Karen permalink
    December 17, 2016 8:40 am

    The guide books mention two Da Dong restaurants. Do you have the address of this one. It would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  5. Jerry M permalink
    December 17, 2016 11:59 am

    There are two Da Dong restaurants in Beijing. Which did you choose? Any reason?

    • December 18, 2016 11:19 am

      I had the hardest time finding places based on their addresses in guidebooks. Even the Google failed me in finding restaurants throughout the journey.

      I just happened to stumble onto this location of DaDong on an excursion to Wangfujing.

      It’s not on Google, but if o remember correctly it was on Wangfujing Street at either the corner of Dashamao Hutong or a block south at Xiagongfu Street. I think it was on the 3rd floor? There was definitely an elevator involved.

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