A Taste of Peking Duck

Brian at Quanjude, a famous restaurant in Beijing, where a chef behind him carves Peking duck

Peking duck has been served in China for centuries. It is still the most popular dish in Beijing. (Beijing, which is the capital of China, was once called Peking.)

The duck is roasted, sliced thinly, and topped with crispy skin. The dish is typically served with onion, cucumber, sweet bean sauce, and pancakes. 



The tradition of Peking duck dates back more than 1,500 years. According to legend, the dish originated when an emperor of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) hunted wild duck and had the palace chef roast it. 

Although the dish is named after Peking, it actually originated in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the imperial court moved to Peking, bringing the duck recipe with it.

Eventually, Peking duck was enjoyed not just by kings but also members of the nobility. Praise for the dish can be found in the writings of ancient scholars and poets.


Brian with restaurant manager Hou Ya Hui in front of wood-burning ovens used to prepare Peking duck


Today, Peking duck is a must-try for tourists, including celebrities and government officials. One of the most famous restaurants in Beijing is the Quanjude, which was established in 1864.

During a recent visit to the restaurant, I spoke with manager Hou Ya Hui. He has been working at the Beijing restaurant, which is now a chain, for about two decades.

“Our restaurant chain sells more than 2 million roast ducks in 400 different styles to more than 5 million customers annually,” Ya Hui said. “The preparation involves 50 steps, and it takes 3 days to dry, season, and cook the duck to ensure that it’s the best it can be.’’  

Ya Hui explained that the duck has to be dried beforehand in order to make the skin crispy. It is then roasted over an open fire, allowing the grease to be cooked off. Finally, the duck is sliced in front of diners at the table, just as it has been done for more than 150 years.


The crispy skin has helped make Peking duck a favorite dish for centuries.  


Because the restaurant often serves more than 600 ducks in a single evening, some people may wonder how the quality of the dish can be ensured.

“We raise the ducks on our own farms for 42 days in a free-range environment,” Ya Hui said. “This allows us to control the supply chain from beginning to end and lower costs, as well as increase quality.”



A cooking academy trains chefs to prepare the dish. The course takes up to 12 months, with 3 months dedicated to mastering the traditional slicing method.

Quanjude employs between 50 and 60 chefs at each restaurant. Some of the chefs have worked at the same restaurant for more than 50 years.

There’s always a long line to get into Quanjude and other Beijing restaurants that specialize in Peking duck, so be sure to make a reservation if you want to try the famous dish.


Photos courtesy of the author