Friday, March 13, 2009

Duck King - Shanghai

Duck King (Ya Wang)
Si Chuan Rd, Hong Kou, Shanghai

I've mentioned in an earlier post how unlikely it is that I'll ever settle on a 'favorite ice-cream flavor'. It's a completely different story with food.

For a long time now, I've declared my favorite food to be Peking duck. I rave on and on about it to friends who don't know what that means or who have only tried Peking duck in Australian restaurants. This has set me up for many opportunities to get disappointed... whenever I go back to Shanghai and order Peking duck, my expectations are sky high.

So far so good; in that I haven't even been remotely let down. In fact, the most recent time I was at Duck King with my mum, I managed to be still impressed with how good the duck wraps were.

Duck King is one of 'the places' to go for Peking duck in Shanghai. I've never been to Beijing so I can't claim I've had the most authentic duck on offer but I'll be very surprised and probably die from ecstasy if it manages to get any better than what it already is. This entry is a review for Duck King as a restaurant but remember that I'm a huge fan of this dish as is. If I went and DIDN'T order Peking duck, I'd be a) insane and b) not as impressed with the dining experience.
Remember - your experience with a restaurant is 50% dependent on how they cook and 50% dependent on how well you've ordered.

We arrived at Duck King quite early. My granddad tries to utilize the fact that pensioners don't have to pay transport in China as long as it's off peak. This is why he trekked out to get us a table at 4pm and happily waited there for an hour till we arrived. Weird, yes.

Dinner this day involved quite a lot of my family members but we decided not to order a large variety of dishes. Rather, on my suggestion, we ordered 2 ducks and chose to make the duck the 'main event' of the feast.

Ducks are roasted on order so it takes about an hour for it to come out. While we were waiting, we munched on water celery and spicy chicken pieces.

Soy-braised water celery

Water celery is a direct translation of what it's called in Chinese. I'm not sure what the correct term is because I've never seen this vegetable in Australia. I guess it's from the celery family but the stalks are much thinner and tender. This dish was quite healthy but still tasty.
Spicy chicken

Shanghainese spicy chicken is something that Charlie was crazy about for the space of a month. I kept telling him about the one available at Duck King where they fry up the chicken pieces with huge whole chillies. I don't like 'chili' on food for the sake of it i.e. when there's a chili shaker on the table, I'm not one of those people who just top their dishes liberally. I can 'take' chili but only like it if it compliments the food. I don't get the point of it if chili is over powering all other flavors. Getting to the point... I like spicy chicken because sure it's hot on the palate but there is a multitude of flavors that compliment the chicken very very well. My aunt describes it as having different degrees of spiciness rather than just being 'chili'.

When I duck arrived, I practically jumped out of the seat. I've seen the guys shave the ducks many times before so that's lost appeal to me. I still find myself waiting intently for the plates of shaved meat to be handed onto the table. We dug in ASAP and omgn so good. The combination of duck, skin, sauce, shallot and pancake is just perfection in itself. My family in Australia have tried making our own Peking duck substitutes by re-roasting store bought duck and using sauce + supermarket pancakes. I still think this tastes good i.e. the food idea and combination is just really special. However, it definitely pales in comparison to the Duck King version. I've also had Peking Duck at supposedly one of the top restaurants that offer it in Brisbane... it was 'good' but over-priced and again, nowhere near as good as one from China.

My dad explained that the breed of duck is different, the method of cooking is different (the authentic version involves pumping air into the duck and its skin during the roasting process to keep it puffed up). When you see ducks wheeled out in Australian-Chinese restaurants, they are small and 'deflated' in appearance.
Plate of duck

Looking at this photo... you can really judge the difference for yourself visually. The skin on these ducks are very thick and crispy all the way through. It doesn't even taste that oily which is something that bothers me about roast ducks bought here.

For those that don't know, Peking duck is a way of enjoying duck. You wrap a bit of meat (with skin), a bit of shallot and sauce to taste in a thin crepe-like pancake. There is a more 'regal' way of eating the duck where they remove the skin separate from the meat. You dip the skin in sugar and eat with sesame buns. Some restaurants also provide cucumber for you to wrap with.
Finally, for dessert my cousin ordered her favorite - alcoholic rice stew with glutinous rice balls. This is another traditional Chinese dessert but nowadays, restaurants are trying to revamp the components. In the past, my mother told me the dessert would be flavored with osmanthus flowers. The one in Duck King was more fancy shmancy and had multi-colored balls. I found it under-flavored and not alcoholic enough.
Alcoholic rice with glutinous rice balls

Despite the dessert being a dud, I truly believe Duck King is a superior restaurant, especially if you want a predictably awesome Peking duck experience. I don't even have to mention that I'll be going back there next time. In fact, I'm looking forward to it now!

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