Till not so long ago, duck was a meat I had to travel out of the country to enjoy. Then a few years ago, duck started creeping into Chinese menus around India. Once Royal China opened in Mumbai with its signature Crispy Aromatic Duck, it seemed as if there was no stopping the duck invasion.
China House at The Hyatt in both Mumbai and Delhi began to serve the most authentic Peking Duck and My Humble House at Delhi's ITC turned the traditional Crispy Duck into a work of edible art.
This growing popularity seemed like a bonanza for a duck lover like me.
Then, earlier this year, India Jones at The Hilton, hosted a Duck Festival. A restaurant with an entire menu of just duck dishes? Surely a sign that duck has finally arrived in India. Or has it? I decided to investigate further. While working my way through Crispy Duck, Duck Dumplings and crispy Duck Popiahs (spring rolls), I grabbed the opportunity to talk ‘duck' with Chef Joy Bhattacharya, executive chef, Trident (known as Hilton earlier ).
Royalty plays fowl
Duck, according to Bhattacharya, was a very popular meat in ancient India . In the days when hunting was a royal pastime and game such as wild duck, wild boar and pheasant enjoyed pride of place at the royal tables.
As royalty ceded its way to democracy, hunting was banned and wild game made way for farm bred chicken.
With the passage of time, Indians lost the taste for strong gamey meats. Today, the bland chicken wins hands down in any taste test for the average Indian palate So what is this new duck mania all about?
Have chefs become bold and decided to expand the Indian meat repertoire to include more game? Is the new breed of well-travelled Indi an consumers more open to experimenting with varieties of meat and game? Or are we digging deep in our culinary past and rediscovering the recipes that graced the royal tables?
Unfortunately, from all prevalent trends, the answer is none of these. The only duck dishes to have caught the Indian imagination are the Crispy Aromatic Duck and Peking Duck.
Think about it, duck that is either deep fried or roasted to a crisp and smothered in sweet plum sauce, topped with spring onions and cucumber before being wrapped in a rice pancake! What is there not to like?
The sweet sauce and pancake mask the gamey flavour and the crispy texture of the meat is tailor-made for the Indian palate.
The fact still remains that it is almost impossible to buy duck for home cooking in most of India. The demand for duck is still so small, that the few duck breeders, cater exclusively to the hotel and restaurant business and this. According to Chef Bhattacharya, this is unlikely to change in the near future.
So for the moment, if I want eat a Duck Terrine or a Duck Bigarade (duck with an orange flavoured sauce), I still need to transport myself to foreign shores to sate my appetite.