If you travel to China in search of the Beijing kaoya, or roast duck, carved into 120 thin slices, you will find more restaurants selling Kentucky Fried Chicken. 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’ with only 35 per cent fat content compared to 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. But despite the economic crisis, Da Dong 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.
Da Dong is where the image-conscious Chinese, diplomats and foreigners sit at roundtables in private rooms and restaurants that look like a trendy Mumbai nightclub. It took Dong five years of research to finalise his low-fat recipe. All he gives away is that his ducks are roasted for one hour and 20 minutes unlike the 35-40 minutes in other restaurants. And in case you’re interested, his Peking duck keeps company with the stewed pigeon.