Gung hay fat choy! Soon approaching is the Chinese New Year, one of the largest and longest holidays in the Chinese culture. This year will bring us into the Year of the Ram, one of the twelve animals on the Chinese Zodiac. For the uninitiated, Chinese New Year changes every year because it is on the lunar calendar, and this year, the celebration begins on February 19.
While there are varying degrees of tradition, the basics include cleaning and wearing new clothes, to get rid of bad luck and make room for good luck in the new year! The more traditional parts of Chinese New Year include ceremonies, parades, and ancient customs, but the fun parts of Chinese New Year include firecrackers, red envelopes with cash for the children, and lots of food for everyone!
As we rapidly approach the Year of the Ram, you may be busy vacuuming your house, stealing packages of red envelopes from Cathay Bank, and making plans to celebrate with your family. Of course, even if you are not Chinese, Chinese New Year is still a fun holiday and a great excuse to eat Chinese food! Chinese New Year is just a few weeks away, and amidst the ice and snow will emerge a new year, full of promise, prosperity, and hopefully Peking duck!
One of the most well-known Chinese cuisines is the incredible delicacy of Peking duck, a specialty of the northern capital, Peking. Today, Peking is better known as Beijing, but the duck remains just as famous and just as delicious! In Manhattan, one of the best places to get Peking duck is the posh Peking Duck House in Chinatown.
Located on Mott Street, the Peking Duck House is just south of Bayard Street and a short walk from any of the Canal Street stops on the 1, 6, A, C, E, N, Q, R, J, or Z trains. The Peking Duck House has undergone a series of recent renovations that set it apart from the other restaurants in Chinatown, giving it an air of elegance and ambience that is more welcoming to its patrons who find Chinatown’s traditional atmosphere to be unsettling or uncomfortable.
The wait for a table can vary, so be prepared to stand against the wall and marvel at the skill of the chef as he carves the duck with the largest knife that I have seen outside of my grandmother’s kitchen. There is a larger downstairs seating area, so if possible, try to get a table in that roomier section.
Obviously the attraction is the Peking duck, sliced so thin that it’s mostly the crispy skin, and just a hint of the juicy dark meat. The traditional way to eat it is with a pancake, which looks a lot like a tortilla, slathered with hoisin sauce, and topped with green onions and cucumbers. Like tacos or crêpes, it is a difficult food to eat in an attractive and orderly manner, but it is very delicious and readily savored.
The Peking Duck House has a full menu in addition to the famous duck, but we do not picture it here because we prefer to focus solely on the duck, which, for the Brunch with Bear team, is the main attraction of the menu. However, we can attest that the chefs maintain the same high quality of the duck across all their dishes.
The Peking Duck House caters to a large non-Chinese clientele, and such service may be reflected in the dining experience, especially for those of you that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the neighborhood, and make it easier to order some other dishes. However, we should note that it is possible to find high quality authentic Chinese food at many other restaurants, and so we choose to only focus on the famous Peking duck as it is the Peking Duck House’s specialty!
Peking duck, as an imperial delicacy, is rather expensive, and best saved for special occasions, such as Chinese New Year. For those of you who are trying it for the first time, don’t be shy to ask questions because the restaurant is very proud of its signature dish! If you are celebrating the new year, be sure to order a plate of noodles as well, a symbol of a long and healthy life and traditional new year food.
As the Year of the Ram comes near, we look forward to a year of new possibilities and adventures. For our part, we may attempt a dragon dance, a new restaurant or two, and of course, as much Peking duck as we can get. For the rest of you, we hope that the new year means trying Peking duck for the first time!