If you travel to China in search of the Beijing kaoya or roast duck carved in 120 thin slices, you will find more restaurants selling Kentucky Fried Chicken. <b1>
But inside a restored granary dating back to 1409, China's only roast duck chef with an MBA is ensuring that the centuries-old imperial dish doesn't trail behind the modern-day march of the chicken.
Since 2002 in obesity-obsessed Beijing, chef Da Dong's bestseller is the 'superlean' but succulent duck with only 35 per cent fat content compared to greasy ducks with about 55 per cent fat served elsewhere. His fierce rival is the conservative Quanjude restaurant with a history dating to 1864, business worth over two million roast ducks per year, and a guest list spanning Henry Kissinger to Fidel Castro.
Dadong's 'low-fat' duck dinners
But despite the economic crisis, Dadong is sold out this month for 'low-fat' duck dinners worth at least Rs 2,100-5,000 per head to mark the spring festival. A third Dadong will open this summer in Beijing.
When this correspondent met Da Dong, or Dong Zhengxiang, he seemed more mild-mannered than the pale ducks hanging on hooks in his kitchen and ducks roasting deep inside fruitwood-fired ovens. But at the mention of Indian food, the restaurateur with as many staff as the 700 ducks served daily in the restaurant's two branches, transformed. Da Dong clutched his head, twisted, contorted and made strange sounds. "Indian food, so complicated! So spicy…aaargh!'' he beseeched looking askance.
Then, he added 'delicious' as a polite afterthought.
Da Dong is where the image-conscious Chinese, the diplomats and foreigners sit at roundtables in private rooms and restaurants that look like a trendy Mumbai nightclub and not a granary as old as the capital's Forbidden City palaces. Girls in long black skirts with knee-high slits teach diners to roll duck pancakes with a sprinkling chosen from sweet sauce, shallot, sugar, garlic paste, preserved vegetables, radish and cucumber.
"All ducks served in Beijing come from the same market,'' Dong told HT. "But it took me five years of research to finalise my low-fat recipe.'' All he gave away is that his ducks are roasted for one hour and 20 minutes unlike the 35-40 minutes in other restaurants.
The menu includes sautéed duck intestine with oyster sauce, sautéed duck heart with shallot, duck tongue with aspic, and a duck broth of whatever remains of the bird. And in case you're interested, his Peking duck keeps company with the stewed pigeon.