by Lazarus Lynch
Heads were turning, and kids were snickering as the glistening fat dripped down my colorful fingers, down to my elbows, and straight to the ash pavement where my feet stood in Flushing’s Chinatown. Heads kept turning and kids were pointing. As though I were giving an encore street performance, or as if I were mishandling something very precious in my hands, I looked into the eyes of my captivated audience, smiled wide, and took a daring bite into its flesh; I was eating Peking duck.
I suppose I did look crazy—holding an entire Peking duck in my hands as though that was standard behavior. I suppose no one with their good senses had ever done such a thing, and certainly never in public. I was completely mesmerized, and I showed it.
Flushing, Queens – Home to the New York Mets baseball team, and the USTA National Tennis Center, Flushing is one of New York City’s booming neighborhoods in commerce, finance, transportation, and recreation. Known as, “The Chinese Manhattan,” Flushing is one of the most ethnically populated neighborhoods with two-thirds of its population being foreign born, according to a 2013 Department of City Planning report.
Flushing is also home to great, authentic Chinese food. Local street vendors, immigrant-owned restaurants, and neighborhood fruit and vegetable markets makes this community a cultural microcosm.
If you’re ever taking a stroll through Chinatown, you are bound to see windows of hanging Peking duck. The aroma alone hits you from a block away. I was introduced to the glories of Peking Duck in 2011 when I moved to Beijing, China. The succulent, crispy-skinned, ancient food hung most places food was sold. I knew I had discovered what would become a lifetime favored food.
The origins of Peking duck dates back to the Yuan Dynasty, and made its first debut at a restaurant in China in the 15th century. The beloved dish used to be served by professional chefs for high dignitaries, in palaces, and in wealthy households. Over the centuries, the dish has become an accessible and common dish found on menus around the world in Chinese restaurants.
Surprisingly, Peking duck isn't that expensive (at least not in Flushing). I paid $20 for an entire Peking duck, head on and everything. The average price for a duck breast is around $8-10. I was pleasantly surprised that for a duck so delicious, it costed so little, and was enough to serve four.
I especially love the crispy texture of Peking duck skin which is achieved by a three-day process of dressing the duck, seasoning with a soy sauce mixture, pumping air underneath the skin, hanging it to dry, and ultimately roasting the duck in a hot oven until the fat is beautifully rendered and crisp, and the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Traditionally, Peking duck is served with rice, scallions, Asian pancakes, hoisin sauce, and cucumbers. However, there are really no rules about how to approach this tasty bird of thing IMHO. You've just got to commit and go innnnn, just as I did on the streets of Flushing.
If you're planning a trip to NYC, be sure to hit up Flushing, Queens, and of course, make time for some Peking Duck!