The Lunar New Year is a great time to feast in many parts of Asia though most people are more familiar with the holiday as Chinese New Year (this year on Feb. 10). The celebrations last 15 days with various foods that symbolize good luck and plenty.
Even though Peking duck is not one of the traditional good luck foods, the luxury and involved preparation of the dish makes it a popular celebratory food. Originally, one duck would yield three preparations. The skin was served with the flour pancakes, along with scallions and hoisin sauce, making a perfect blend of crispy, soft, salty, sweet, and strong. The meat was served on the side as an afterthought, while the bones were used for soup.
Traditionally, it took three months of training to learn how to kill and dress the duck correctly. The training focused on how to keep the skin fully intact through various processes including a quick dip in boiling water with flavoring, air-drying for 12-24 hours, and frequent rotation during cooking.
Nowadays with technology, the process of making and enjoying Peking duck is a lot simpler. For a beloved Peking duck, head to Peking Gourmet Inn, a favorite of both Presidents Bush and a number of local chefs and celebrities. The restaurant is also known for the garlic sprouts it grows and stir fries with shrimp, chicken or pork. Also near Seven Corners is Mark's Duck House, a Hong Kong-style restaurant that is also known for its dim sum.
For a more family feeling to Peking duck, head to Shanghai Village in Bethesda. Chef-owner Kwok greets many of his regular patrons by name, and comes out of the kitchen to personally carve most of the ducks.
Even though Spices has a pan-Asian menu with sushi, Chinese, Malaysian, and Thai food, the "big duck" is still one of the best options in the city proper. It's served with unconventional cucumber in addition to scallions.
For tradition, there's Duck Chang's in Annandale and its daughter restaurant Peking Duck in Alexandria. Since Duck Chang's opened in 1975, two generations have served Peking duck in the traditional three ways, but you can also opt for the version with both meat and crispy skin.
For a slightly deconstructed option, head to The Source for the lacquered Chinese duck, served with lo mein noodles and sweet and sour huckleberries.
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[Photo: Peking Gourmet Inn]