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Is duck sauce in Chinese restaurants ONLY a New England thing?

I know I am only one of many frustrated former New Englanders who have been puzzled why Chinese restaurants elsewhere do not have duck sauce. Not plum sauce, I mean that nice medium brown sweet chunky with ginger sauce that makes egg rolls sparkle.
I have found some very lame bottled variations in markets out west, but why do restaurants not have it available?

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  1. That particular variety must be - I was going to say that some of the (generally quite lousy) Chinese restaurants in Nashville have "duck sauce" on the table, but it's a sort of brown flavorless goo in plastic pouches (to go with the Chun King "soy sauce"). As my experience in Chinese restaurants is limited to the Midwest, Nashville, the SF Bay area, and now (O Bliss, O Joy!) the San Gabriel Valley, any full survey will require more participants, who will I'm sure show up pretty soon …

    1. In northern VA, most seem to have the packets of goo, although orange in color w/ a few darker orange flecks. But they do work well mixed w/ soy sauce at a 6 to 1 ratio as a marinade for shrimp to be grilled.

      1. They have it here in SoCal but I find it to be insipid and very sweet--would make nothing "sparkle."

        1. Is it always brown? Most American Chinese restaurants I've been to have orange duck sauce, often in individual packets when one gets takeaway. Once those packets get old, however, they darken to an unappealing brown.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JungMann

            My local take-out places in Colorado often include the little packets of orange duck sauce. To me, they taste gross and there is nothing I like to put it on. I would try a better quality sauce but do not want to buy a bottle just to try it.

            1. It never occurred to me that they didn't have it elsewhere. A lot of places mix their own using equal parts of applesauce and canned crushed pineapple as a base. Some use applesauce and apricot preserves. I think a bit of garlic, Ginger and soy sauce are added in.

              12 Replies
              1. re: calliope_nh

                Oh thank you kindly, ye of rolling steam powered music. That of which we speak is not some thick tube of jello like substance, but a fresh and nice dipping sauce for spare ribs, egg rolls, pot stickers, shrimp and the like.
                I hope you are near a lake in NH, I have Nashua on my weather alert list and seems the heat is coming your way.

                1. re: calliope_nh

                  Really? Then why is it called "Duck Sauce" ??

                  I must say I wasn't sure what you folks were talking about. I vaguely remember seeing packets of brownish goo at times on the rare occasions I get C-A takeout or at so-called "Chinese" holes-in-the-wall. I admit I don't normally eat from these places so was puzzled by the query in the first place. (Yes, I'm Chinese and eat Cantonese/Szechuan/etc restaurant food not infrequently)
                  (p.s. I also lived for many years in the greater NYC area and can't say I consciously remember this concoction around there too, but then I would not usually eat in Chinese-American takeouts and similar places.)

                  1. re: huiray

                    Because it is really spelled "Duk" Sauce.

                    It's a sweet and sour and spicy sauce made with fruit and vinegar.


                    1. re: huiray

                      Duck sauce is a condiment with a sweet and sour flavor and a translucent orange appearance similar to a thin jelly. Offered at Chinese-American restaurants, it is used as a dip for deep-fried dishes such as duck, chicken, fish, spring rolls, egg rolls, or with rice or noodles.........

                      40 and 50 years ago, fried crispy duck was a staple of Chinese-American restaurants here in the northeast. Nowadays, if you find duck on the menu it is either Wor Shu Opp in a brown sauce or Peking Duck. I miss the classic Cantonese Chinese-American cuisine of my youth

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        OK, thanks, it IS those little packets of orangeish goo tossed in with C-A take-out orders, then. (I should have looked it up first, mea culpa) Mentally, I visualize real plum sauce, or a brownish sweet/tangy [not actually sour] sauce etc if one talks about a dip for Peking Duck, roast chicken, spring rolls, etc.

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          See also "lobster sauce," another New England classic. I'm sure bagelman knows that it derives from a dish called lobster Cantonese. The sauce -- a brown mess with bits of meat -- survives in dishes like "Shrimp with lobster sauce."

                          1. re: Bob W

                            Lobster sauce is a sauce that IS different in Massachusetts and northern New England than that served in Southern Connecticut and NY. The sauce in Mass. is dark brown with loads of minced pork and lots of garlic. In southern CT and NY, lobster sauce is traditionally white with bits of egg white (as in egg drop soup). Years ago it contained minced pork, now it is seldom seen. Since the 80s, most of the takeout joints throw in frozen green peas. Absolutely dreadful.

                            One of my favorite Chinese dives on So. Broadwaay in Lawrence, MZ has a luncheon for $4.95. 2 Full fried chicken wings, pork fried rice and a bowl of the brown lobster sauce. heavn on earth, but need lots of breath mints before returning to work.

                            1. re: Bob W

                              Oh, how I miss the brown lobster sauce, and the real duck sauce, and egg rolls of Cantonese cooking. Does anyone out there know how to make that style of Lobster sauce - PLEASE, OH PLEASE!

                              1. re: jacquelyncoffey

                                Here's a home cooking (not restaurant) recipe that produces an acceptable result

                                4 garlic cloves, minced
                                1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
                                1 lb ground pork
                                2 cups sliced scallions
                                4 cubes instant chicken-flavored broth(Herb-Ox)
                                3 cups hot water
                                or 3 cups stock, may have to add salt
                                4 tablespoons sugar
                                4 tablespoons oyster sauce
                                4 teaspoons soy sauce
                                6 teaspoons cornstarch
                                1Saute' meat and seasonings.
                                2Add scallions.
                                3Dissolve Herb-Ox in water and add to meat.
                                4Add sugar, oyster sauce and soy sauce.
                                5Mix corn starch with some of the liquid to thicken.

                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  Thank you, I will try that, it is very similar to a recipe I have been tweaking, but not yet hit. I think the oyster sauce will make a big difference. I'll let you know how it comes out!

                                  1. re: jacquelyncoffey

                                    I find it is more like the restaurant variety if you don't buy ground pork at the supermarket which tends to have no texture, but pulse some cubed pork in your food processor to a coarse chop

                                2. re: jacquelyncoffey

                                  Vegetable oil
                                  6 oz. Ground pork or ground beef
                                  Ground garlic to taste
                                  ½ c. water
                                  Salt to taste
                                  1 t. molasses
                                  1 t of oyster sauce
                                  Cornstarch to thicken
                                  1 egg
                                  Chopped green scallion for garnish

                                  Use enough oil to cover the bottom of a wok or deep frying pan. Heat the oil and stir fry the meat with the garlic. Add the water and salt, then the molasses. Add enough cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Blend the egg into the sauce and continue stir frying until the egg is set. Top with the scallions and serve with rice or noodles. Serves 2-3.

                        2. I've been eating in Chinatown and other Bay Area Chinese restaurants and I've never HEARD of "duck sauce".

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Sharuf

                            Well they had it 25 years ago...guess times have changed at your basic take out places.

                            1. re: escondido123

                              "basic take out places" are not a common thing around here. You can pick up stuff to go at the sit down restaurants, but that's about it.

                          2. I am a New Englander, born in and still live in Southern Connecticut, but west of the river, Yankees country. Ducksauce is a staple in Chinese-American restaurants both in New England and in New York City and suburbs. I've eaten in NY Chinese-American restaurants for more than 55 years an a bowl of Duck sauce and a bowl of crispy fried noodles is usually found on the table.
                            That said, most restaurants I encounter no longer make their own chunky variety, but use the smooth commercially available duck sauce. But every so often i encounter a throwback that still makes its own.

                            One of the reasons you don't find this as you travel the USA is that Chinese-American restaurants that were the standard in the northeast were Cantonese. The post 1970 explosion of Chinese food in the hinterland due to the change in immigration laws brought in Szechuan, Hunan, Fujian and other regional Chinese cuisine and workers who did not have this duck sauce tradition.

                            See other threads that have run on what Chow Mein is, and what we know in greater NY as chow maein is nothing like what is served in other areas.

                            1. One of my favorite guilty pleasures in life is crab rangoon dunked in Duck Sauce (I'm also talking about the sweet, applesauce/apricot jam-based sauce that comes in a little plastic tub). Sweet, salty, creamy, crispy goodness!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: LeoLioness

                                Never saw "Duck Sauce" in H.K. nor did any of my office when I asked about it. That being said, as kids when we got to go out to a Chinese very American Restaurant we slathered it on everything including those greasy little crispy noodles..........

                              2. Supermarkets in New England sell jarred duck sauce but it is much thicker and sweeter than what you'd find in a bowl on the table of a Chinese restaurant. A co-worker born in China, whose family has a restaurant here, told me the trick is to mix the jarred stuff with applesauce, thin it with a little water, and add a splash of vinegar.

                                I no longer buy the jar - I just mix honey mustard, applesauce, vinegar, water, and apricot or peach preserves, when I want something to accompany the Peking ravioli or shu mai that I buy frozen, sometimes adding a little soy sauce or pickled ginger...

                                1. This is a great forum. I am a big fan of New England style Chinese food. I have tasted Chinese food all over the country. You can find brown duck sauce in the northern surrounding areas of Boston and some in the city limits and most areas north threw parts of Southern New Hampshire.
                                  But not in China Town in Boston they don't serve it.
                                  I over tips a waiter to get the recipe.
                                  Apple Sauce
                                  White Sugar
                                  White Vinegar
                                  Dark Soy Sauce (you can just add some molasses to regular soy it works well)
                                  Duck Sauce (the orange thick type labeled duck sauce, I know crazy right)
                                  I talked to one Chinese cook that added some crushed pineapple to the above ingredients but not necessary. Sorry I do not have the ratios but you get the Idea.
                                  Good Luck All
                                  PS Nothing better then dipping all those Cantonese apps in this Brown Liquid Gold.
                                  Egg Rolls
                                  Boneless Pork Strips
                                  Crab Rangoon
                                  Spare Ribs
                                  Chicken Fingers

                                  1. Imy family for years went to a restaurant in china town.in Boston It was called yee hong guey. They made their own duck sauce. As time past the sauce aged and became more and more fermented. It was wonderful. When I asked how they made it they used apple sauce vinegar sugar apricots and ginger. The older it got the lighter it got. Then there was also the sauce plum or duck that came from china in those tin cans that looked really old and beaten up. How I miss that stuff now I,ll have to make some ,you can't buy it.

                                    1. Is this all just a niche product for former New Englanders? Wondered why the Polynesian Chinese never spread further from New England. Is this just a cult following not necessarily a staple cuisine for many people like say sushi, mexican, or thai...

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: jetle25

                                        Please see my earlier reply July 21, 2011.

                                        It's really all about the immigration laws. Before the new laws (1970s) Chinese population was pretty much only in the seaport coastal cities and mainly Cantonese.

                                        The spread of Chinese food to the hinterlands occurred after the influx of immigrants from many regions of China. Here in the northeast many of us lament the disappearance of old-time Cantonese Chinese-American food of our youth.

                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                          ok that being said. What about this being a cult following. I think its interesting bit of food history, but is there really a demand nationally for this stuff. Or even regionally any more.

                                          1. re: jetle25

                                            Demand? no desire? yes by those over the age of 40 wishing for something they enjoyed in the northeastern US when they were young.

                                            Not a cult following

                                      2. Because it is a NE thing not a Chinese thing. So unlike Black Bean Sauce or Oyster Sauce, you only see that sauce in NE.
                                        There is a couple of long threads on the Home Cooking Board about how to replicate that Boston area "Chinese" food.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: chefj

                                          I live in California and agree that Duck Sauce is a NE thing. Oddly enough, I can go to Smart and Final, a warehouse store, and buy a gallon can of the stuff. But it's never offered in restaurants here.

                                          1. re: 512window

                                            Are you sure that it is the NE stuff? Because most of what you see called Duck Sauce in the West and Mid-Atlantic is not the same thing.

                                            1. re: chefj

                                              I have no idea. I'm from California - I don't really want to try it. It just seems odd that Smart and Final has the big cans.

                                          2. re: chefj

                                            I wonder how much of a demand for this stuff if it was offered as a premixed bottled Authentic NE Duck Sauce. I've had the legit house made stuff before and i find that it is similar to adding mint jelly or apple sauce with pork or lamb but on a fast fried food level. It's not something you can have sit on food too long because it gets cold and texture becomes runny and even too sweet at times. I guess its more like a dipping sauce. How do you all use it on your Chinese food? I like it more on crunchy fried not necessarily roast meats like chicken wing or ribs. It gets sticky really fast…a

                                            1. re: jetle25

                                              My understanding is that it is served with Eggrolls.
                                              I am not sure where you got the idea that I said it was used for anything else.

                                              1. re: jetle25

                                                In our family it was used on egg rolls, fried won tons, fried chicken wings...

                                                You mixed it into the fried rice

                                                You dipped into it: spare ribs, shrimp toast, fried crispy noodles (served in a woven wood bowl on the table when you are seated),

                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                  FYI one of the largest producers of "DuckSauce' is Golds of NY...it is OU of course and the owner was as neighbor of mine...
                                                  Most NE Chinese takeouts buy their product by the 5 gallon jug, water it down and repackage it in 5 ounce containers and give it away...

                                                  1. re: PHREDDY

                                                    PHREDDY....Gold's Duck Sauce is a staple of my refrigerator. BUT it is NOT the same taste or consistency of the New England Duck sauce in this thread.

                                                    The New England Duck Sauce is chunkier, darker, has vinegar, etc.

                                                    Gold's Dai day and Saucy Susan were staples of the Jewish American home for more than 50 years, but are basically an apricot jam.