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Beijing Duck report- Quanjude vs. Made in China (LONG)

OK so from what I've gleaned from reading here and elsewhere is that this is the definitive battle for kind of Beijing Duck here in Beijing or even perhaps the world. Ever since I read on the Los Angeles board of Quanjude's Los Angeles demise shortly before I arrived in LA, I became obsessed with tasting the quintessential duck.

Having recently completed whole duck feasts at both establishments and watching personally as my duck came out of each of their smoking, fruit wood fired brick ovens (glistening with a crispy golden sheen I'd never quite experienced before), my Lovely Tasting Assistant (LTA) and I were ready to do some serious experimenting.

Part I: Quanjude
Went to the original 150-ish year old establishment in the Quanmen area, south of Tiannamen square (as opposed to the newer one off the glitzy and gaudy Wanfujing Street).

First thing to note for those who have been to this area before is that nearly every restaurant, shop and street vendor in this area EXCEPT for Quanjude has been packed up, shut down and made to roll away (that's right, delicious street food vendors are now chased away by police in the tourist areas.) In an effort to modernize for the 2008 Olympics, the Government (capitalisation intentional) is causing serious cultural devastation here, demolishing acres of historic and atmospheric (and chowhoundly) cozy hutong neighborhood alleys, dough slice noodle shops and outdoor charcoal lamb kebab stands and building in their place giant towers, department stores, etc. I've never seen building of this scale anywhere in America-- it's astonishing, and revolting (but we'll leave the politics for another time.) The point is, for whatever reason (probably because of someone paid off... oops politics again) the oridinal Quanjude still exists, thank chowhounddom and world culture as a whole.

In front of Quanjude facing the street, there is a small takeaway front where they sell the least expensive duck on paper plates. (about 60 yuen, if I recall or about $8 per portion... didn't eat it so don't know if it's whole duck.) My fluent Chinese speaking girlfriend asked if it was the same duck, cooked in the same ovens and they said yes (however we have learned to take a huge grain of salt with any info offered by any native Chinese as precision information is not one of their finest attributes.) We didn't fly all the way to Beijing for paper plate duck however, so we went inside the restaurant proper, down a little driveway, past all the guys who want to take you for bicycle rickshaw rides through the hutongs.

First thing-- the place is beautiful, with the original tiny restaurant appearing almost as a little shrine in the back as compared to the 2 level behemoth that has sprouted off of it. But as with all of the most beautiful sites in China, with growing popularite the gift shop factor has been ramped up. Though the restaurant is designed in a quasi-traditional Chinese style with lots of subdued wood tones, you do have to dodge past kitschy teapots and cigarette lighters decorated with tits and a picture of George Bush eating there. Welcome to China.

On to the duck. Apparantly they have two levels of duck. The 160 yuen ($20) duck comes with the basic shmear, pancakes, slivered onions, plum sauce. There's also a 198 yuen model (about $25) and we were told that it's a better duck. Why? "It's just better." Don't ask the Chinese for specific information-- you'll just be disappointed. In reality the "better duck" came with a second type of pancake (made probably from cornmeal) but we preferred the original flour pancake. It also came with the white duck bone soup, which tasted much like cloudy water. For sides we ordered chinese broccoli and 4-flavor duck dumpling, which were these colorful little squares divided up into 4 quarters, each filled with a different brightly colored, minced duck part. They were fantastic. But I digress... it's all about the duck here.

I should first say that I have only ever eaten the quasi Beijing duck at Lu Din Gee in Los Angeles, which does not have the required brick/fruit wood oven to make it true Beijing duck. The difference was phenomenal. First, the chef comes out with the duck, tableside and begins the carving process, right in front of you. Fantastic! First he separated the crispy bits of skin, layers them in a plate. Then it's slices of breast meat with thin rings of skin still clinging. Then it's on to the succulent, dark leg and thigh meat. Ohhhh my. He laid the plates in front of us and the first thing I did was inhale heaven. The intense, wonderful, rich smokiness filled my head. I tasted a bit of the skin.... sliced so thin and incredibly crunchy. The duck was gone in about 20 minutes, and we left about 98% of the duck bone soup. (By the way, does this stuff ever have flavor?)

Part II: Made In China
I should have been wary of this place when I saw that it was recommended in "many travel guides." But I read great praise for it on Chowhound at one time and the name stuck in my mind. I figured that Quanjude was probably listed in every travel guide too, so what the hell. Made in China is located in the glitzy Oriental Plaza, inside the lobby of the doubly glitzy Hilton Hotel. We secured seats right in front of the brick duck oven so that we could actually see our ducks hanging in the back, behind the fire, swaying gently as the heat and smoke rocked that baby to deliciousness.

The duck here was 208 yuen, so about $1.20 more expensive than the Quanjude duck. Everything else on the menu was generally obscenely expensive. We came for the duck, so that's all we ordered. The waitress assurred us that "many of our customers enjoy our duck more than Quanjude." What I can say to that is that most of their customers are businessmen on expense accounts, impressed more with the stunningly tasteful decor (no gift shops) than developing their own culinary palates. Now the bird here wasn't bad, per se, it was just a disappointment in comparison to Quanjude. The duck arrived tableside (I actually got a video of this straight from oven to our table which I will post on our blog eventually...) this time with the head, which was a nice touch. We were told by the chef that often the head is served for 2 reasons-- 1) to prove that the whole duck is just for you and 2) some people like to eat the brain. The condiments arrived, much the same although the onions were not julienned as fine, making for a fibrous chew sometimes. Not good! In addition, they also brought a weird garlic mayonnaise sauce. We asked what this was for and he said "some foreigners prefer the garlic sauce to the plum sauce." Huh?? My panic buttons had been pushed. The chef began to disassemble the bird in much the same way as in Quanjude. I smelled the plate of duck and was shocked...... there was barely a trace of the fruit wood smoke. How can that be? I saw it come out of that smoky brick inferno. Somehow the meat was also much less flavorful. It was juicy, but just not... you know, Quanjude. The one outstanding characteristic of the bird was the skin. It was a much deeper golden color than Quanjude's, and the texture was totally unusual. The texure was crispy on the outside but somehow spongey/crunchy on the inside. When my molars bit into it, the skin squeegied juice of some kind (tasted like oil) into my mouth. I'm not entirely sure I enjoyed it (however my LTA did) but it was uniquely characteristic of the Made in China duck.

That's all for now-- check out our blog if you like. Lots of food pics... not entirely up to date but we're working on it!

Mr Taster

Asia food pics and culture madness:
http://www.travelpod.com/members/adam...

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  1. That's good info. But how about giving us a link for your blog?

    Edited to Add: Yikes! I forgot I had seen the early entires before. Here's a starting point:

    http://travelpod.com/travel-blog/adam...

    1. We have eatten at Quanjude 3 or 4 times and yes, it is tasty. But for the record, it is just as tasty on a paper plate out in front which is where we eat. The difference--based on your description---is that you don't watch them chop up the duck in the up front place. And you order by the portion, not the duck. [though you may be able to order a full duck up front] But curiously enough, the soup [from your description] is more flavorful up front.

      FYI: At some point, we were told that garlic is "manly" way to eat the duck and that polite ladies [traditional] used the plum sauce and the sugar.

      If you are still in Beijing, there is another place--way back in a hutong--that is even better than Quanjude. I seem to recall that it begins with an "L" and it is in the Lonely planet guide.

      Thanks for the review!

      3 Replies
      1. re: jenn

        Yes we've seen it-- it's called Liquin roast duck. Supposedly the chef defected from Quanjude. Have not gone yet-- plan to before leaving. Sadly the hutong neighborhood is being rapidly bulldozed. I don't think this place will have the same divine protections that Quanjude has so if you're in the area you may want to check it out before it's gone forever.

        Mr Taster

        1. re: Mr Taster

          My wife and I ate at Liquin two years ago. She was appalled by the clutter and the tattered aspect of the place. I thought the duck weas transcendent. She didn't quite agree. It is worth a visit, if for nothing else than a visit to the neighborhood.

          1. re: Michael Rodriguez

            My husband and I ate at Liquin last year and loved it. It's a totally dingy hole-in-the-wall in a very poor hutong near Tiananmen Square, but the duck was unbelievably good they carved the bird very thoroughly. We were also served a very memorable plate of duck livers. The whole experience (even getting lost in the hutong on the way there) was great.

            Our experience at Made in China was similarly disappointing. Duck was ok, although they left so much meat on the carcass that we would've liked to have eaten. The service was lackluster and the atmosphere was a bit staid.

      2. I remember the soup at the Quanjude in L.A. as you do, it was pretty much just cloudy water. But I sure do miss the duck!

        1. Hmmm... Well, I haven't been to Quanjude (in Beijing, the McDonald's of duck) but I take people to Made in China regularly (ok, 3-4 times a year) and really do enjoy it. I think their skin is crisper, without the hanging fat you often find, the meat tender and succulent. And their pancakes are divine - more delicate and much fresher than any others I've had around town. Keep in mind, I am not comparing MIC with Quanjude as I've never been there! And while I agree that most diners at MIC are foreigners on expense accounts, I've seen some pretty authentic Chinese ge men'r types their too. Anyway, thanks for your report - was very interesting. By the way, MIC is in the Grand Hyatt, not the Hilton. Oh, and the place in the hutong is called Liqun and it's just ok - comparatively quite reasonable, but not as delicate or refined as MIC or QJD.

          1. Hyatt, Hilton, same same :)

            Please do check out the Quanjude duck if you get the chance. The deep smokiness adds a profound depth to the flavor.

            Mr Taster

            1. Many thanks for the comparison. Last year we ate at the Qianmen location and also had the more expensive level of duck, which we were very pleased with. My daughter liked the electronic display of the number of ducks sold at that location. We never made it to Made in China, so it is good to know that we did not miss much. There is a Shanghai branch of QuanJuDe which we tried also, but the duck was not up to par with the one in Beijing. Our waitress in Shanghai, though, was the most hardworking waitress I'd ever seen in our China travels.

              1. Copied from a more recent post http://www.chowhound.com/topics/346824 but this is a more appropriate thread. My experience at the Olympic branch of Quanjude, November 22,2006.

                I had planned to try Da Dong (from CH recs, confirmed as good duck by a chef we met at Yung Kee in Hong Kong) but our driver brought us to Quanjude saying that Da Dong would require a long wait.

                There are actually six Beijing Quanjude locations: Tiananmen Sq is the original, a bigger fancier one on Wangfujing near the Beijing Hotel, three others (locations written in Chinese on my flyer so I don't know where they are) and Yayuncun, where we went, at 309 Huizhong Beili, between the 4th and 5th ring roads in Chaoyang district (north of Datun St).

                Our driver deposited us there since we were coming from the Summer Palace (and I think he lives on that side of Beijing). It is close to the new Olympic Village and bills itself as 'sports themed', ready to cash in on the Olympic crowds, with private rooms named after (and decorated in the styles of) cities that have hosted the Olympics. We ate in the high-ceilinged, spacious main floor room with views into the kitchen and at of the ducks emerging from the fruitwood fire oven. The service was really excellent, we were seated at a large table, lots of room between tables, definitely a top notch, comfortable experience.

                Duck with all the trimmings and soup at the end was Y198. That's two types of pancakes and also sesame-covered biscuits and lettuce for wrapping up your duck, with ginger and garlic as an alternative to hoisin. It is supposed to be 4 ways of eating Peking Duck. I loved that you actually got to eat the whole duck--in NY it seems that you get about ten slices from one duck. At Quanjude they say that each duck is sliced to produce 108 pieces, and you get the head, of course, also (the brain is not bad and the skin off the head is quite good). We also had duck gizzards (chewy but nice), jellyfish steeped in a dark, winey vinegar, dao miu (I don't know the english spelling, that spinachy veg with garlic and black bean sauce, yum), an outstanding green bean with minced pork dish (my friend's uncle from Hong Kong said it was the best he had ever had), and little duck shaped cookies at the end. Dragon Seal cabernet sauvignon/gamay is really pretty good Chinese wine and only Y88 a bottle. All in all, for the total price for 4 (about Y500, $60), this was an outstanding meal in luxurious surroundings. Highly recommended!

                1. Excellent thread. Yes, it is unfortunate how the whole of Qianmen is being repackaged as the premiere shopping destination in Beijing. But at the least, some of the streetscape is being saved (albeit cutesified and sanitized beyond recognition) and at least the Lao Ji Hao (the old "trademarks") i.e. old shops that have been in business since the 1850s, 1860s (these include a legnedary apothecary and a shoemaker) are being pressed to lend glamor to the whole district. In other cities such as Guilin, Guiyang, Kunming, the central districts have simply disappeared-seemingly overnight. Downtown Kunming within the ring road (don't scoff: I am talking about an area with a diameter of at least 5 kilometers) has been ENTIRELY razed. Half of the magnificent Muslim quarters has already made way for a huge condominium development and the fate of the other half of that street remains uncertain. It's now all trade centers, convention halls, megamalls, enormous public squares, 12-lane avenues, flyovers. A few dilapidated traditional houses remain on the bird/jewelry/antique street which is slated to be repackaged as a tourist attraction. Really quite tragic.

                  This said, there is still plenty of excellent chow to be found even in the Qianmen area-specially in the side streets. Walk to the end of Dashilan (and beyond) to find tiny restaurants devoted to quite an astonishing collection of regional cuisines from Fukienese to Xinjiang to at least 5-6 excellent dongbei restaurants as well as traditional Beijing dishes. Yes, the streetfood scene could be better-but I did manage to enjoy delcious potato-stuffed pancakes as well as duck foetus (like balut, but out of the shell), skewered and then grilled (2 to a skewer, 1 kuay per skewer). The vendor asked me first: do you want mao (feather) or no mao? :>0 !!!!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: RST

                    I was in Beijing in June and when I was in the Dashilar and Qianmen area there wasn't much street food left. Many of the hutong alleys were blocked off and a few old historic buildings and food stores I wanted to check out weren't accessible. But many of the old buildings like a famous silk merchant shop was abandoned and in such bad shape I don't know who would want to pay for it. The pickle shop is still there going strong but I wasn't all that impressed.

                    When you mean the end of Dashilar, do you mean to the west? I didn't find much food there besides a few bread and pastry stands.

                    1. re: usr.bin.eat

                      No there are certainly more impressive pickle shops elsewhere in China. Several markets (in Kunming or Chengdu for instance) have stalls offering even more fabulous selections-but it is what it is-and we should be thankful that at least it's still there.

                      OK, I looked at my maps (as promised)-but it turned out that they are detailed enough to actually list the names of the tiny alleys and hutongs in this area-so I will reconstruct from memory as well as I can.

                      The sidewalks of Qianmen Da Jie were being reconstructed and were blocked off two weeks ago when I was in Beijing, but there are openings in alleys permitting access to Dashilar and all the other smaller streets. Take Dazhalan Da Jie, which opens on the east end with an arch. Walk westward through the part with the quaint historic (late-Ching Dynasty, art-deco etc) storefronts. The pickle shop is off in an alley to the left. Tongrentang (the apothecary) and Nienliansheng (the shop that made shoes for Mao) would be to your left. Continue till you get to the first major crossroad, which I think is Meishi Jie on my map, although I did not note the name and have no way to reconfirm it now. If I remember correctly, there is store specializing in Yunnanese specialties (it's so-so, not too impressive: a few selctions of foraged mushrooms, some pu-erh tea leaves, that sort of thing) across the street on the northwest corner. Continue down that extension of Dazhalan Jie-which may or may NOT be called Dazhalan at that point. The chow gets more and more interesting from this point on-for what would be the equivalent of 2-3 normal city blocks. From this point on, I started noting various little restaurants representing all sorts of regional cuisines: that of Fukien Sha County, Xiang Cai [Xiang Cai refers to the cooking of Hunan, in the same way that Quan Cai means "the cooking of Guizhou", Dian-ancient word for Yunnan-Cai refers to Yunnanese and so on], Shanxi, Hubei, Xinjiang, various traditional Beijing specialties (including one on the right with a stall offering soup topped with blood cake set up right in front of the restaurant). There's even a place specializing in li ruo (donkey). I counted at least 6-7 Dongbei restaurants here-of which I tried 4-5-all in the same afternoon-testing and comparing various versions of pan la p'i (of which I have written about many times on the Chicago Board), dongbei luan tun (an intriguing stew of mostly "foreign/non-Chinese" vegetables: green peppers, eggplant, tomato, green beans etc//luan tun = "chaos" stew; i.e. everything-but-the-ktichen-sink-stew) and so on. Prices run to 10, 15 kuay for most dishes, but dongbei portions are enormous-easily three, four times the portions at most Chinese restaurants elsewhere. These are places for dongbei expatriates in Beijing as they are all mostly packed at about lunchtime and everyone seems to know everyone else. They are all very good-but the one I am most partial to is a place simply called Dongbei Khao Ruo (Dongbei Grilled Meat). To get to this, walk down that stretch described above until you get to a fork. Dongbei Khao Ruo is just two or three shops away from that fork-on the fork marked Shaanxi Alley (Shaanxi Xiang)-on the northern side of that alley. As I read and speak Chinese, I have no problems with the menu at all (and I am quite familiar with a lot of these dongbei dishes since we have two excellent dongbei restaurants in Chicago) but I specifically remember seeing shorter English menu with representative (not comprehensive) selections at most of these places. If absolutely stumped, you could probably just use your chow-passport or use the ol' point method.

                      Sorry hope that helps. Being based in Xicheng District, I myself did not spend a lot of time in Qianmen and so cannot offer more than these few suggestions. Eating in huge cities like Beijing, Chicago, New York tends to be done on an intensely local level and one tends to get to know and to become partial to the offerings in one's own neighborhood above any other. I spent more time exploring the hutongs around the place I was staying at but also became quite fascinated with nighttime streetfood markets like those on Wangfujin Jie (the one near DongAnMen, not the kitschier one with all the souvenir stalls towards the southern end) and Kuey Jie.

                      Richard

                  2. Actually, it's laozihao... and unfortunately many of them HAVE been hit by the wrecking ball. I posted this on another thread but some of the oldest and most famous laozihao restaurants have moved from Qianmen to a courtyard house in Houhai. It's called Jiumen Xiaochi and is where you can find douzhi, tripe, and other lao Beijing snacks, sweets and street food.

                    1. Yes, in the Qianmen and Dashilar area, go west. I will look at my notes and map and get back later today.

                      1. SO I'm posting here as well...
                        1. in re Beijing KaoYa Peking Duck establishments,does Bianyifang still exist? Because it's as old as QUanjude but hasa slightly different cooking method and no one here seems to have gone. I went LONG AGO so I don't know if it's still there. There is a chinese language website for bianyifang but it's unclear if the old restaurant is still around.
                        http://www.bianyifang.com/
                        2. It's been I while since I was in DaZhaLan/dashilar (if i remember my beijing dialect) but I remember a great little place on the north side of the street near the old acrobatics theater just a bit west of Tongrentang, the famous herbal medicine shop. the place had a window and sold the best yogurt i've ever had (suan nai). They had sweetenedand unsweetened yogurt in those days served in small blue and white crockery pots with the name - beijing suan nai company printed on the side. On a hot summer's day, it was great. Also, as far as street food and snacks go - inthose days you could walk into a little workers club let's say near Ganjiakou in the summer and buy bingshuang, the ice with fruit and a bit of syrup.

                        and pretty good cherries as I remember and my fave, the guofu, dried fruits, esp the apples and pears - pingguofu and lifu. Local, either beijing shi or hebei province.

                        I wonder if any of these things is still around.

                        1. I've been rereading this great post in preparation for a trip next month. I would love to hear additional comments about Quanjude and other top places for duck. One place I've just read about is:

                          Beijing Dadong Kaoya Dian (on the east side of East Third Ring Road at Tuanjie Hu Bei Kou, #3)

                          I am a single traveler who speaks no Chinese. Am I going to have a difficult time on my chow excursions due to the language barrier? I really do not want to be stuck eating at hotels...or be given special tourist menus with high prices and toned down food.

                          Any and all tips appreciated! I really feel as if I will be floundering (!!) in China..

                          Oh..one more thing..what is the word on the Li Family Restaurant? This has been recommended to me but the reports I've read do not seem too enticing..(too touristy, expensive, etc... )

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: erica

                            erica,
                            i hope you get some answers for your language barrier in restaurants question because that is of concern to me too. whatever the responses, i hope you post your experiences. looking forward to hear about your trip. (ditto for korea)

                            j.

                            1. re: kirkj

                              Kirk I will do my best...I did get some excellent responses about Shanghai food on another thread so take a look at that if you are bound that way...

                              Off in search of Seoul food (sorry!!!) next week...

                              1. re: erica

                                Erica, don't sweat the language thing, have your hotel write your destinations in Chinese characters, and carry the hotel's name too so you can get back home. I don't speak Mandarin. Never had any trouble ordering in Beijing or Shanghai, the menus often have pictures and especially at a place like Dadong Kaoya they will know you have not come there for a haircut but to eat some duck, and they can figure it out. The bigger problem of eating by yourself is that it cuts down on your ability to try a lot of different dishes (unless you don't mind throwing food away) the portions always seem to be for 3 or 4 people. Anyway just stay calm and the language will work out a lot easier than you think.
                                Good luck and good eating

                                1. re: steamer

                                  Thank you Steamer. I know it is a shame about having to go alone as far as the variety issue. Maybe I will be able to meet up with a few potential dining companions. I feel a bit more relaxed now. Have to take it as it comes..I know I am not the ONLY one who will be tongue tied!

                          2. I just went to the Wangfujing Quanjude last week and was dissappointed. The inside is drab and cheesy. The skin was not as crispy as I expected. The meat was not particularly smoky, moist or delicious. The slivered onions that came with the sauce were tough and unchewable. The duck bone soup tasted like dirty water. The service was rushed (it was very busy on a Saturday afternoon) and the card they give you with your "duck number" is just too touristy. Skip this one.