HYDERABAD: When we landed in Kaohsiung, the second major city in Taiwan, our group was enticed with a taste of the famous peking duck in an authentic and reputed restaurant. Bianyifang is the oldest peking duck restaurant chain with over 600 years of history. After a walk along the romantic Love River on Fisherman’s Wharf, we reached the Banana Pier’s seaside restaurant Bianyifang. As a prelude to the great gastronomic experience that was in store for us, our guide Peter Lee gave us the history of the dish.
Ducks have been roasted in China since the Southern and Northern Dynasties. Peking roast duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that dates back to the imperial era. Bianyifang, established in 1416, carries the Beijing cuisine tradition from the Qing Dynasty to its modern day. The meat is prized for its thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with scallion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce with pancakes rolled around the fillings.
Peking roast duck was fully developed during the later Ming Dynasty and became one of the main dishes on imperial court menus. Bianyifang was the first restaurant that specialised in peking duck. During the Qing Dynasty, its popularity spread to the upper classes, inspiring poetry from poets and scholars who enjoyed the dish. By the mid-20th century, peking duck had become a national symbol of China.
Two notable restaurants in Beijing which serve this dish are Quanjude and Bianyifang. Centuries old, both establishments are known for their style: Quanjude uses the hung oven roasting method, while Bianyifang uses the oldest technique of closed oven roasting. The closed oven is built of brick and fitted with metal griddles. The oven is preheated by burning Gaoliang sorghum straw. The duck is placed in the oven immediately after the fire burns out, allowing the meat to be slowly cooked through the convection of heat within the oven.
The warm and hospitable staff willingly gave us a tour of the restaurant; we stopped to click pictures where of the closed oven. The chefs also merrily posed for us with the glazed ducks in their hands.
We sat down for an All Duck Banquet, in an exclusive and elegantly decorated cabin. A variety of dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian each with its distinctive flavour were served first. Then the chef arrived to carve the roasted duck ceremonially. A formal announcement was made by one of the stewards in high tone, that the duck was about to be carved (like announcing the proceedings in a royal court!)
Following the tradition, the duck was carved in front of us and served in three stages. First, the skin was served dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The meat was then served with steamed pancakes, spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Thirdly, a stewardess deftly wrapped the pancakes around the meat with the vegetables, and presented to be eaten by hand. The soup that came in the end, was told to have been simmered over slow fire for two nights and three days.
Everyone relished the Peking duck and raved about it. As for me, I was happy eating the several vegetable dishes that accompanied the meat and the yummy dessert. I love to watch ducks glide in calm waters, making ripples and feast my eyes.
Getting there: Cathay Pacific has daily flights from major Indian cities to Kaohsiung. A ride in the Bullet Train to Taipei, is totally worth it. The speed thrills!!
Stay: Ambassador Hotel at Kaohsiung
Visa: Online visa application
Currency: Taiwan Dollar TWD is equal to 2 INR
Buy: Foot wear, clothes, tea and handicrafts at the night markets for the best deals.
Eat: Peking Duck and a large variety of seafood