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May 20, 2013 12:29 AM

Duck Jaws at Cooking Papa and the Joy Of Eating Without Worrying About Manners [Foster City]

Several years ago I worked in the International Division of a software company, and it was my very good fortune to be able to make frequent trips to Hong Kong, where the locals gave me impromptu training in Chinese Food Appreciation. We could expense our meals so a visitor from headquarters was a good excuse to eat at some really fine restaurants and let the company pay.

I would have expected the gourmet of the HK office to be the salesman from a prominent family who through his social standing had entrée to all the elite corporate decision-makers. But the real gourmet there was a guy from a rougher background, and he was my most frequent dining companion. I asked him one night if he would take me some place that was kind of a dive, a place common people ate, but with great food. He took me down an alley in Central, to a basement restaurant with a dirt floor that was entered by stooping through a small, low opening into what had apparently been intended as a crawl space rather than a room.

The floor had been dug out a bit but the ceiling was still very low. The décor was bare light bulbs and roughly made and crudely painted tables. The food was delicious and the dishes had lots of bones. The custom was for patrons to spit out the bones onto the table. Someone came by every few minutes with a dustpan and swept the bones away. It took a few minutes to let go of my inhibitions but soon I was loving the freedom of not having to worry about manners. It greatly added to my enjoyment of the meal.

I occasionally think of that experience when I’m in a restaurant trying to eat something delicious that has lots of little bones or other issues. If I could just grab the food and munch away I would get all that deliciousness but I would also look like a total slob. So I pick at the food and even if I eventually get most of the good parts out, the constraint really interferes with my full enjoyment.

Tonight I had no food in the larder and decided to order take out from Cooking Papa, the nearest restaurant to my home in Foster City. I’d had their duck jaws 3 or 4 times before, but wasn’t really in a duck jaw mood. I ordered it anyway, because I wanted to remind myself what it was like so I could compare it to Great Eastern’s version in my posting about Friday’s Chowdown at GE. Also since I was going to be eating take out alone I wouldn’t need to worry about manners in dealing with the myriad bones in the dish.

Alone at my dining table, in the privacy of my home, with no witnesses, I greedily devoured the jaws (which were even better than I remembered) and quickly generated a full dinner plate of bones. With table manners not an issue, they are easy to eat, though you have to be willing to get your fingers very oily ripping the bones apart.

Unlike GE, CP retains the long slender jaw bones around the tongue, and when you tear them off you get some really delicious meat at one end. The jaws were fried with scallions and onions, and though I had remembered them covered with crispy fried bits of stuff the onions were merely well cooked but not crispy. The flavor was intense, delicious, and addictive. I had ordered enough dishes for two meals and intended to save half of the jaws for later but I couldn’t stop until only two were left. My fingers and lips dripping with oily goodness, with a smile on my face, I said a prayer of thanks for Cooking Papa being a mile from my home, and for the pure joy of eating like a savage.

If you’re interested in trying this dish, it’s on the Seasonal Specials page, where it has been for several months. It’s now called Duck Tongues in Maggi Sauce.

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  1. better hot or cold?

    after our pile of duck chins at Great Eastern, I am appreciating the physiology of the duck in greater detail - chopsticks aside, it's all finger lickin' good

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cynsa

      These are definitely meant to be eaten hot. They are too greasy for eating cold but the fatty parts are wonderfully unctuous when they’re hot. You get a nice mix of meat plus fatty tissue.

    2. "and for the pure joy of eating like a savage" --- Love it! Wish I lived only a block from CP or for that matter, any good Chinese Resto! Also, I've had duck tongue any number of times but never with the jaw attached... note to self: need to try this

      1. An enchanting essay, Charlie! I had seen the duck tongues on the menu, but never ordered them because I'm the only one in my family who happily eats them and because my memories of Maggi are not pleasant. (In the Philippines, you can always tell a place you should avoid like the plague by the stench of the burnt Maggi.) But now you've made me want to go and order those duck tongues, Maggi and relatives be darned!

        Maybe we can get RWCFoodie and some other uninhibited hounds together for the kind of meal at which we can order all the weird, messy, delicious stuff we can't eat with other people like frog, goose intestines, sea cucumber, duck tongues, etc. Does pigeon count as weird? I saw it on CP's menu, but it requires 3 days notice.

        12 Replies
        1. re: pilinut

          Sounds like a plan! Ideally this would be in a private room behind closed doors, but I don’t think there is one at the FC CP, though they do have that side room in the back on the right as you walk in.

          I’ve had pigeon in Hong Kong where it’s pretty standard fare but I think it counts as weird over here. I don't remember it being that messy, except that as the visitor and therefore guest of honor I got the head which required use of fingers and sucking.

          I couldn’t quite remember what Maggi was so I finally Googled it— I’m in shock that Maggi Sauce is from the same line of Nestle products as the bouillon cubes! I had imagined something more exotic. I guess Maggi Sauce, however easy it may be to misuse, can do wonders in the right chef’s hands.

          1. re: charliemyboy

            Maggi sauce is essential in the version of garlic noodles I make... Very yummy.

            1. re: pilinut

              All of these things I love along with other weird things that I love and can not eat anymore (or any less).

              Add to the list
              Duck and Chicken feet

              I am just wishing I can have some now. I guess I am weird too.

              1. re: yimster

                Ah, kidneys! I’m a huge fan of lamb kidneys. I don’t think of them as weird since from early childhood my Mom served them regularly, cut into small pieces and fried with butter. I continued the tradition after I left home, and was able to buy them fairly regularly in small packages (usually with six kidneys) until at least the late 70’s or early 80’s.

                When they started getting scarce I asked a butcher why and he told me they just didn’t get that many lambs in. It made sense when you think about how much other meat you get off a lamb that has only two small kidneys. Each of my little packages required three lambs worth! Lamb kidneys clearly hadn’t been very popular or they wouldn’t have been so cheap and plentiful. Maybe tastes changed, or maybe more butchering was taking place in central locations so the leftover parts didn’t make it to the stores, but regardless of reason my glory days of lamb kidneys came to an end and beef kidneys just didn’t have the same intensity of flavor.

                My love of organ meat was apparently not genetic. Mom would make us whatever we wanted for dinner on our birthdays and my siblings were not pleased when I chose liver and kidneys instead of something like charbroiled steak.

                Here’s another weird item to add to the list— geoduck!

                1. re: charliemyboy

                  I wonder if you're still getting those lamb kidneys, but without realizing it. Maybe they're in those delectable merguez sausages. . .

                  Offal, a.k.a. "spare parts" in Singapore, are an all too rare treat. I've bemoaned the lack of brains (no insult to the reader) till I'm blue in the face. I did ask the butcher shop at Stanford mall, Schaub's, and they told me that the labs in Stanford occasionally ordered them from a supplier in the East Bay--and that I could have the supplier ship some to my home. Why does eating a lab specimen feel so much less appetizing?

                  1. re: charliemyboy

                    Geoduck is something that is getting rare now a days. But used to be more available. We used to make two dishes from one clam. Stir fry with the top part and soup from the lower part.

                    It is even good raw thinly slice.

                    1. re: yimster

                      We saw geoduck in a tank at Asian Pearl on Friday. pilinut commented they were the smallest she's ever seen. Wikipedia says they sell for over $150/lb in China. Maybe increased demand is causing reduced size as well as availability.

                      1. re: charliemyboy

                        On a similar note, is overseas demand also why spot prawns (the big guys, not the little "L.A." ones) are becoming exorbitantly expensive these days?

                        I can't find any reputable restaurant that'll do them for less than $40/lb ish, and even from Ranch/Marina, they want $25/lb for them.

                    2. re: charliemyboy

                      I too grew up with lamb kidneys, I believe sauteed with mushrooms. I also remember veal kidney chops. Loved them both... From when I've had them, pork kidneys are very mild too.

                  2. re: pilinut

                    Now that the spotlight's on Duck Jaws, I am seeing them everywhere. Walking along Clement Street and peering through the windows at the take-out steam tables, duck jaws are at each one... not tongues, the whole jaws!

                    1. re: Cynsa

                      Before the Duck Jaws were in the spotlight we enjoy the whole head when we got the Cantonese Whole Roast Duck

                      You not only got the meat from the jaw but the brain was a treat too.

                      It seem now wings, feet, necks among other parts are in fashion. Well not the "waste' parts are in.

                  3. The craze for Maggi sauce fried duck jaws started maybe 2 ish years ago and was heavily touted by those food expert DJs on 1450AM Chinese radio for the version offered at Tai Wu in Daly City a year back. I have not tried this yet anywhere but sounds interesting. At night markets in Taiwan, a popular item is Shandong style duck heads (grilled I believe), so you get a lot more than just the jaw.

                    This is a dish that is meant to go with Tsing Tao beer.

                    You could in theory request this style of frying/stir frying (and using Maggi specifically) on other dishes, and I'm sure they could accommodate if within reason. Probably works also with stir fry beef filets. There's a chance the duck jaws are all pre-marinated (which is entirely possible).

                    Also, Martin Yan on Saturday did a cooking demo on Larkin Street at the Asian Heritage Celebration street fair and brought along members of his M.Y. China crew for hand pulled noodle demonstrations, then. Guess where he ate dinner that night? :-)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: K K

                      I grew up with Maggi sauce added to certain mom-cooked dishes. I wish I remembered what they were. Interesting it's back in prominence in restaurant dishes.

                      1. re: Cary

                        I had the luxury (or torture rather) of eating medium rare mid grade rib eye steaks when I was 8 or 9 for dinner at home...and when the meat was tough, and even after chewing out all the juices and fat, only a little Maggi sauce on it would make it easier to swallow. There were parts of the steak where it was so bad that no Maggi sauce would make it better. What I wouldn't give for a plate of spaghetti and meatsauce with parmesan during those dreadful moments.

                    2. The Maggi duck jaws at our chowdown at Cooking Papa, as depicted below, set me off with a desire to find this at other places.

                      But neither Lai Hong Lounge nor Great Eastern come close to the texture and flavor heights of CP's version.