Monday, November 10, 2008

The Duck is My Friend

I was reading my old e-mails and saw one from an ex-boyfriend. I sent him one of those chain mails that test you how well you know the other person. On the question “What is my favourite food?”, he replied, “I don’t know if it’s still the same, but before it was Peking Duck.”

That got me thinking. The thing is: If you would ask me now, I would easily say that my most favourite dish in the world would be pasta. I could eat the stuff morning, noon and night, in any shape or configuration. Soggy or al dente, hot or cold, I WILL EAT IT.

Peking Duck, though, is what I would call, my “Dish for All Reasons”. When I am happy and celebratory, nothing beats the ceremonial pageantry that comes with eating Peking Duck. When meeting Matt’s mother for the first time, I knew that nothing could be more thoughtful (and impressive) than the glistening and crispy skin of roast duck prepared by the able chefs of Shang Palace. When I got my heart broken by said ex? Peking Duck.

This succulent and universally-loved dish is a specialty of Beijing (The City Formerly Known as Peking) and was being prepared by their cooks since the Yuan Dynasty. Authentic Peking Ducks are first grown free-range for 45 days and then confined to be force-fed until they reach the acceptable size of 6-7 kilos. There are different ways of preparing the dish, but all would involve blowing air in between the skin and the flesh to separate them, boiling for a few hours before hanging it in a closet to dry, until eventually being oven-roasted until golden brown.

My go-to place for really good Peking Duck in Makati was Peking Garden in Glorietta 2. After the unfortunate event that destroyed the area, we were left with nowhere to go for reasonably-priced yet delicious Peking Duck. (Note: Peking Garden has since moved to Trinoma Mall.)Recently, though, my sister and brother-in-law ate at Hai Shin Lou in Arnaiz Ave. where they had really good and reasonably-priced food, including half a Peking Duck which, at P800, is a steal.

One Thursday evening, Matt and I gave in to our duck cravings and met our friends- siblings Mrs. Nadal and The Manchild; Mr. And Mrs. G-RO; and gorgeous blogger Cosmopolicious- for Peking Duck at Hai Shin Lou. Parking was full, but luckily the place had valet parking. The interiors of the place looked relatively modern by Chinese restaurant standards, with the mandatory aquariums and Lazy Susans.

We were given a table in front of the aquariums, which proved to be a problem for me and Mrs. G-RO: The synchronized rising of the bubbles were giving the illusion that the room was going up or down, which oddly made us dizzy. I had to move to the other side of the table so my back was turned from the aquariums. Although slightly queasy, I was still raring to dive into our Chinese spread.

We started the meal with an order of the Seafood Roll with Mayonaise, a dish that I saw in another food blog and looked mighty tasty. Hai Shin Lou’s version, though, was a colossal disappointment. True, the crust was nicely crispy, but there was practically nothing inside. The Manchild grudgingly said, “I TOLD you we should have ordered the eggplant.”

We were not unhappy for too long because next to come out was the Peking Duck. The skin was perfectly-browned and shimmering in the light. The bird, to my surprise, was quite large by Manila standards. It was prepared, not table-side, but at a table a good five meters away. I suppose the dining room was not big enough to accommodate table-side food preparations, but we really did not mind.

Before we knew it, plate after heaping plate of duck skin wrapped in thin pancakes with hoisin sauce and scallions were being served. The sauce was a rich combination of savory and sweet, perfect with the crispy and delightfully oily duck skin. I was also impressed with their pancakes, which were nice and thin and silky, but just the right density to hold in the scrumptiously moist and sticky filling.

“Second way” was prepared deep fried with loads of garlic and peppercorn. This was very nicely done- not at all greasy, with its enticing aromas prodding you to eat more, the flesh still moist and the leftover skin crispy and nicely salty.

For our beef dish, we ordered the Fried Beef with Tausi sauce and Green Pepper. The thinly-sliced beef was tender and juicy, the sauce nicely flavoured with the tausi. This dish was what made me eat more fried rice than I was supposed to. Very, very tasty, indeed.

To balance out the high-cholesterol dishes, we also ordered a Hotpot of Beancurd and Baby Pechay. My expectations from this dish were naturally low: What would you expect from a dish with the words “beancurd” and “pechay” in it? Nevertheless, it was not bad at all.

The starch of choice was Fried Rice with Salted Fish and Chicken. This was also quite good and had a curiously sticky texture to it. The Manchild helpfully informed me that they steam the rice twice to give it that consistency. With a renewed appreciation for the attention given this dish, I actually learned to enjoy it more.

After that enormous meal, we lingered a bit longer to chat and catch up on each other’s lives. It really is nice to have a group of people who share similar passions with you. In this case, there’s that love for good food and living well. Matt and I are already planning a return visit to Hai Shin Lou for more Peking duck- maybe next time with my family or his mom- and we’re not even bothering to think of a good reason.

Hai Shin Lou
Arnaiz Ave.
(between Paseo de Roxas Ave.
and Amorsolo St.)
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8925148


Noel said...

Nice looking duck. The Stockbroker goes to Hai Shin Lou a lot...or, at least, he used to. That second way you had tastes good...but makes me very dizzy afterwards.

Not good at all for my hypertension, so I eat Peking duck rarely - and limit myself to one piece of each way served. I do like it though. Used to eat it often and in big amounts until I found out I was hypertensive.

As the Rolling Stones sang: "What a drag it is getting old."



Chinkee said...

Hi Noel! Yup, for the price of the duck, it was pretty good. What I also noticed is that we actually got more servings of the wrapped duck skin than we expected. The plates just kept on coming, and, well... I had to finish it, right? Its a mortal sin to waste Peking duck, at least in my book:-)

I have a feeling that hypertension is also in my future. With a hypertensive mom and almost-diabetic dad, I'm practically doomed. Oh well, hopefully I still have a few more years of eating with wild abandon. I'm praying that the occasional brocolli would help...:-)

Miguel said...

Hmm another place I have to try..or maybe I should go to Choi Garden first...

Chinkee said...

Hi Miguel! Start with whatever is closer to you. Hehe... But actually, Choi Garden has been getting a lot of rave reviews, so you might want to try that first.