Duck and the City

(That' beijing)
Updated: 2006-12-25 09:04

Driving through the redeveloped Qianmen area, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the wide sweeping roads, perfectly smooth and lined by shiny, boxy buildings. These brand new structures have yet to find occupants, and their emptiness looms over the remaining clumps of decrepit hutongs.


Jin Yang Restaurant seems out of place against this backdrop of Simcity China. Visitors are first greeted by the elegant wisteria outside a surprisingly well- kept Qing dynasty courtyard. These are the famous vines that literary giant Lao She waxed poetic about in his composition on the myriad offerings at this restaurant - he liked the vines, the noodles, and the excellent bears'paws. The first Shanxi restaurant to open up in Beijing after the revolution, Jin Yang established itself in 1959 in the former residence of Ji Xiaolan, a notable scholar of the Qing dynasty. Today, the bears' paws are no longer offered, but the noodles are still very impressive.

Before it became fashionable to eat noodles in lofts, many people came here to find out what all the fuss over Shanxi noodles was about. Jin Yang does a mean flickering fish noodle and cat's ears noodle. Despite their cute names, some serious labor goes into making these artful dishes. The dough for the cat's ears noodles is first cut into pea-sized bits, then some nimble-fingered noodle master pinches them into shape with his chopsticks, one-by-one.

You can also try guoyourou, tender morsels of pork stir-fried in plenty of oil and flavored with the famous Shanxi vinegar that has a history of 3,000 years. You'll need to shake off your anxieties about oily foods and just dig in. Each piece of meat is coated in oil and black vinegar, the tartness of which refreshes your tastebuds and keeps your appetite going.

However, the real find here is the restaurant's signature duck dish. They used to serve a Shanxi-style baked duck, but this was not very popular. The restaurant needed to figure out how to make their duck stand out from the popular Beijing-style roast duck. Eventually they came up with a deep-fried duck, which became an instant hit. It seems the capital's appetite for fowl is infinitely expandable.

Clearly this is the dish everyone comes for, as not one table has failed to order it. The waiter came round with our non-descript, evenly browned duck, and proceeded to cut it up. As soon as his knife broke open the brittle skin, white curls of steam escaped and the rich fragrance of duck meat leaped out at us.

Eaten just like its Beijing-style cousin - accompanied by spring onions, sweet bean sauce, and rolled in a flour wrap - this is clearly the leaner and meaner relation. First steamed under high pressure, much of the duck's fat actually melts away, such that, even after deep-frying, the resulting meat is tender and fatless, encased in potato-chip-crisp skin.

The clean, comfortable restaurant is packed with old-timers and their families. Several generations sit at a table together, busily rolling their fried duck in flour wraps and slurping up the knife-cut noodles. The cityscape may be changing, but the capital's people and their passion for good eating fortunately endures. Zoe Li

Jin Yang Restaurant
Address:241 Zhushikou Xidajie, Xuanwu District
Tel: 010-6303 1669

Recommended dishes:
Jinpai xiangsuya gold-medal duck (RMB 90 per duck)
Jinyang guoyourou vinegar stir-fried pork (RMB 22)
Qiaomian maoerduo cat's ear noodles (RMB 18)
Rousi boyu flickering fish noodles (RMB 14)
Daoxiaomian knife-shaved noodles (RMB 1)
Xiaodunrou cubed fatty pork (RMB 13)


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