Written by: Eric Ong
It is quite interesting to know that each country has its own national dish, one that is notable and strongly associated with a particular country. Dishes can range from simple to a more complex ones created for special occasions. Modern Chinese cooking styles originated from the evolution of classic techniques from the diverse regions of China. The history of Chinese cuisine in China stretches back for thousands of years and has changed from period to period and in each region according to diverse climate, majestic imperial fashions and to simple local preferences. Over time, techniques and ingredients from the cuisines of other cultures were integrated into the cuisine of the Chinese people due to both imperial expansion and from the trade with nearby regions.
My favorite Chinese food is none other than the classic Peking duck which happens to be China’s national dish. Peking duck exemplifies China’s grand imperial past as well as the country’s emphasis of its rich traditional culture. It is a world famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the height of imperial era. The tasty meat is prized for its thin crisp skin, with the authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat that are sliced in front of the diners by the cook. I was fortunate enough to have tasted this delicious dish for the first time while in China with my cousin decades ago and that memorable experience had never left my mind already. Now, I understand why this is such an important aspect of Chinese culture. Since the Yuan Dynasty, this delectable roasted duck dish has already been a symbol of the luxurious imperial court. Later, the delicacy was made within reach of the upper class and at present, this roasted duck dish is now available for all to taste and enjoy.
While in China, my cousin and I got the chance to be invited by our friend to a sumptuous dinner in a famous Chinese restaurant. All the foods in the menu were very impressive but the highlight of the dinner came when the aromatic Peking duck dish was served. A waiter came and delicately prepared the beautiful golden brown duck. Its fragrant aroma slowly spreads over the atmosphere teasing our taste buds. He expertly carved out perfect portions of the duck with smoke coming out in every slice which shows how it was perfectly roasted. After which, the waiter artistically served it in several stages. First, the golden brown skin is served dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The tender juicy meat is then served with steamed pancakes, crisp spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Several fresh vegetable dishes are also provided to complement the tastiness of the duck meat. Traditionally, the warm and soft pancake is wrapped around the tender duck meat with crispy skin, fresh spring onions and a little sweet bean sauce. I tasted it and I felt the sweet smoky flavor of the meat perfectly complement the sweetness of the sauce and the crispiness of the duck skin matches well with the soft pancake wrap. Such mouthwatering food is a gastronomic experience that is hard to forget. There is an exquisite balance of flavor, taste and aroma. Everything is so perfect and will surely satisfy the most discriminating food connoisseur.
Years later, I searched several cook books to learn how to prepare such a delicious dish. I discovered that air is pump into the meat of specially prepared fattened duck to separate the skin from the fat to ensure crispiness of the skin when roasted. The duck is then soaked in boiling water for a short while before it is hung up to dry. While it is hung, the duck is glazed with layers of maltose syrup as flavoring. Having been left to stand for twenty four hours, the duck is then roasted in an oven until it turns shiny brown, crispy and ready to serve. Besides the traditional methods to prepare this Peking duck dish, several recipes are now available around the world that includes the so called two-way or three-way varieties to satisfy different cultures and lifestyles. Truly this is the best Chinese food for everyone to enjoy.
Winners of the Chinese Embassy’s essay writing contest get their stories published in Window to China (http://ph.china-embassy.org/eng/). This week’s published essay belongs to Eric Ong. The remaining winners’ essays will be published in the following weeks to come. Congratulations!