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Of cabbages and kings

By Liu Zhihua | China Daily | Updated: 2015-06-23 07:30

Of cabbages and kings

Hua's Garden's version of Peking roast duck [Photo provided to China Daily]

Hua's Garden does Beijing classics with flair, from humble cabbages to the king of dishes in the capital, Peking duck. Liu Zhihua reports.

To rate a cook, many Chinese people believe you simply have to ask the cook to stir-fry Chinese cabbage. The household dish is easy to prepare, but difficult to make delicious and present beautifully.

It poses little challenge, however, at Hua's Garden, an established fine-dining restaurant group famous for old Beijing flavor - and one of the best places to eat fried Chinese cabbage.

Founded in 1998 by a Beijing native surnamed Hua, the company now boasts 13 branches in the capital. We recently visited one of its flagship restaurants, in the Wangfujing area, which is decorated in traditional Beijing style, with charming Chinese lanterns dangling from wooden eaves, radiating light on wooden tables and velvet-covered chairs.

Hua's cabbage is among the group's signature dishes and a hit with both locals and foreign diners, according to Fu Tao, a publicity executive with the company.

Fu says only the best part of fresh cabbage leaves are used, following a secret recipe that includes myriad seasonings, precisely measured. The leaves are not knife-cut, but hand-shredded.

The resulting flavor is light but tasty, well-balanced between spicy and sour with an edge of sweetness.

In a Beijing-styled restaurant, Peking roast duck is inevitable, and the bird on offer at Hua's Garden is dazzling.

The founder discovered the recipe in an ancient book and then got creative.

Every bird is of similar size so that all are roasted over the date-wood fire at a similar rate. As the fragrant smoke is absorbed, the ducks' marinade is infused into the crisp coating and meltingly tender meat, Fu says.

Our duck had an attractively dark, date-red color. Wrapping the juicy meat, crispy skin with the salty-sweet bean paste and cucumbers in the light pancakes creates a delicious chemistry. Unless a customer asks for spring onion, that traditional ingredient is not served - an innovation by omission designed to avoid bad breath after the meal. Other goodies can be slipped into the rolled pancake with the duck, including shredded lettuce and julienne of pineapple, hami melon, and hawthorn cake.

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