Growing up in an Italian family in the suburbs, Peking Duck was something we heard about, but never ate. Sure we would have the occasional Friday night Chinese food, but it usually included Shrimp in Lobster Sauce, Lo Mein, or Beef with Broccoli. I’ve had rabbit, venison and if you recall, I did have duck meatloaf at the James Beard House but a little part of me has always hesitated to eat a piece of duck. Until I moved to New York and became accustomed seeing the roasted ducks, et al hanging in the windows of the shops of Chinatown; my only experience with roasted duck was from A Christmas Story. You know the part where the dad says “It’s smiling” and the waiter laughs and whacks the poor things head off? It’s a classic moment of film history.
I’ve always been curious about the meal, and the customs surrounding it. So, this past Thursday, my friend and I ventured to Chinatown so I could get my first taste of a true Peking Duck dinner. Even at 8 o’clock the Peking Duck House was packed with hungry New Yorkers sharing plates of succulent meat, bowls of steaming soup and little bundles of dumpling delight.
The space at the Peking Duck House was bright and sleek and bustling with a lot of activity. We were seated and served piping hot tea immediately. After some discussion about what to get, we opted to split a full duck that was served with warm, freshly made pancakes, scallions, cucumber slices and hoisin sauce.
Not much later, the waiter presented us with “our duck” before being whisked off to the center of the dining room where a chef expertly and quickly carved it down to a plate of succulent meat. The meat and accoutrements were brought over and it was time to start making our rolls.
Chopsticks in hand, I laid out a pancake on my plate, placed three slices of meat, a few stalks of the scallions and cucumbers and a drizzle of hoisin sauce. I rolled it up like a burrito, or an egg roll considering the meal, and bit into my first taste of Peking Duck. Sweet, salty, crunchy. So many flavors and textures were going on and yet they worked together in harmony. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to try such a delight.
The meat was perfectly cooked, succulent but not greasy, the skin thin and crispy. The vegetables were the perfect counterpart to the richness of the meat. Four rolls and half a pot of tea later I was full, happy and completely satisfied. If you can’t make it to Mott Street, there is a second location on 53 St and 3 Ave. A fabulous choice for crowds or for a break from the typical Chinese meal, it’s definitely something not to be missed!