Peking duck may well be our city’s most renowned dish, but it’s far from the only local tradition honored by Hua’s Restaurant. The tables at this restaurant’s Beixinqiao location are nestled in a hutong courtyard, and that perimeter of ancient Chinese rooftops helps Hua’s recapture the ambiance of dynasties past.
Head chef Zhang Fangzhong concedes that the historical decor is impressive, but adds that the restaurant’s signature dish has an even more storied lineage.
“Our Peking duck is a bit fatty, making it extra tasty. But the best part about it is the soft texture of its skin, making it very easy to chew,” Zhang says of Hua’s delectably delicate signature Baye roast duck.
He adds that the sides are as crucial as the dish’s main ingredients: “Usually Peking duck will have sides like carrots, onions, and sauce. But here, we also use fruits like pineapple and vegetables like cucumber, to give the dish a more unique taste. Most importantly, we don’t use onion as a side, because of its odor. Instead, we have a special sauce that tastes similar, but won’t be so bad for your breath.”
Hua’s take on the dish has a deeply serious, almost epic back story. The recipe came courtesy of the restaurant’s founder, Hua Lei. He learned it from a 600-year-old, Qing dynasty book that was passed down in his family from one generation to the next. This time-honored recipe was a hit upon Hua’s opening on Guijie in 1998, so much so that the restaurant has since added 13 locations throughout Beijing.
Zhang came into the fold in 2007, and has combined Hua Lei’s reverence for tradition with a few modern twists. In addition to the aforementioned fruity sides, Zhang also steams three different colors of pancakes, one made with flour, another with carrots until it turns a fiery orange, and another with spinach that gives it an emerald hue. He says these little variations strike a balance between fresh trends and rich traditionalism. Another such example is the restaurant’s portion options for some of its most popular dishes.
“We usually serve our ba wang ji chicken in portions for four or five people,” Zhang says, adding: “Now we also have a smaller option for business people or Western diners, because they often prefer individual dishes.” Hua Lei and his team of chefs drummed up the ba wang ji recipe in 2002, when he was informed that Anita Mui, a beloved Hong Kong film starlet, would
be visiting Beijing and dining at his restaurant.
After learning about Mui’s love of chicken, Hua Lei’s chefs readied a savory poultry dish that incorporated both Chinese and Western sauces. Upon sampling it, Mui enthusiastically talked the dish up in the media, and her endorsement has been all the more cherished since she succumbed to cancer in 2003.
But above all, Hua’s is most renowned for its Peking duck, both locally and internationally. Zhang recalls readying the signature Baye duck for a recent conference that brought chefs from around the world to Beijing: “We were prepping the dish for people that had cooked for presidents and kings.” He admits the prospect was intimidating, but adds with a laugh: “The conference’s manager nearly ate two ducks by herself. Cris Comerford, a Filipina chef who cooked for Obama at the White House for years, was there. Even she came up and told us how much she enjoyed the duck. I’m especially proud of that.”
Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog