Thursday, February 22, 2024

Chinese influence: Peking Duck* dish more than just fowl language


Seems like yesterday when I was just a young lad, sitting in a posh New York Chinese restaurant. That statement itself is a shock to hay-wagon bumpkins who think the new Panda place is as posh as it gets in the way of Chinese "cuisine."

Anyway, this place served Peking Duck. Unheard of nowadays, especially since the city is now called Beijing. What New York socialite could ever imagine eating "Beijing Duck?" Besides that, it would be a smoked-in-smog dish and not roasted according to the current air quality in urban China. Sounds yummy.

This specialty dish had to be ordered two days ahead in order to capture the critter before it took flight. Word spreads fast in the Communist fowl-eatery world. When the hammer comes down - the purge machine kicks into high gear. Feathers fly.

Next thing you know restaurateurs will be changing the choices within the famous "two columns" found on every Chinese menu worldwide. For those of you Chinese-culinarily-challenged, those two columns usually include some form of rice. In the near future you can expect the "fufu elites of Gen X" - what Yuppies used to call their kids, to demand quinoa mixed-in to the steamed white rice with the fried rice completely eliminated as a health hazard.

BTW - "white" rice will soon be called "diverse" rice. Black rice matters, dontcha know? As my fiscally responsible brother points out, those "colored" rices are pricey, but necessary to add some rainbow effect to the dominant White world we are told must be hated as intolerant. At least that's what I hear on liberal TV. Just for the record, there is a black rice and a red rice and a yellow rice and a brown rice. Seems like a rice for every race, eh?

Anyway, back to the food. It is a little known fact that George Washington partook in the eating of Peking Duck while his men froze at Valley Forge. Of course back then it was one of Washington's many slaves who had to roast and serve it to the officers. I don't think he waited two days or was handed a fortune cookie and a choice of chopsticks or a fork.

About 60 years later the Peking Duck was involved in the Texas Revolution as a sidebar. Seems like the Mexican rulers were demanding that Texans stuff jalapeños into their fowl before roasting. The Texans told the Mexicans to stuff their jalapeños elsewhere and, Texans, being what they are, invaded Tio José's Mexican Family Restaurant one night in the Austin suburb of Round Rock and threw all the Peking Duck, complete with the spicy pepper stuffing, into the Rio Grande. It was their version of the Boston Tea Party. Except the revolutionaries had to drive about 12 hours south to Brownsville before they reached the river. Thank God they had an electric Tesla, but they couldn't fit too many ducks into it so they abandoned that idea and called FedEx, ordering them to drop the ducks from altitude to express their attitude and hopefully cause a big splash with Santa. Not Santa Clause, Santa Anna.
(I wonder if he was a cross-dressing general with a name like that?)

Finally, before the Mexican victory at the Alamo, a compromise was reached ala'duck - so to speak. The "Stuffed Duck" law was rescinded and jalapeño poppers, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cream cheese, just like at the Plaza Super Jet in Wenatchee, were served as a side dish.

So now I must end my tale of how Chinese cuisine has influenced American history and culture. Next in my series of cultural diversity columns, I will focus on Canadians, but that's a wagging tail for a different dog. Chow for now.

Author's Note: (Edited from Wikipedia) Duck has been roasted in China since  1330. The Peking Roast Duck that came to be associated with the term was fully developed during the Ming Dynasty. By then, Peking Duck was one of the main dishes on imperial court menus. The first restaurant specializing in Peking Duck was established in 1416.

By 1736 the popularity of Peking Duck spread to the upper classes, inspiring poetry and scholarly works.

By 1864 the Peking Duck was introduced worldwide and has become a national symbol of China, favored by tourists and diplomats alike. Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl have all enjoyed the dish.

Then there's me. I just happen to like the duck's fatty skin. If done right, it is a simply marvelous dish.

Gary Bégin’s opinions are not the official views of NCW Media. To reach him email: Any email is subjected to publication as a “letter to the editor” unless explicitly requested not to do so.


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