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    Beijing Roast Duck is arguably the most famous food in Beijing and becomes a must-have for visitors from home and abroad.

    There are two ways to roast the duck: Hang-up Roast Duck and Stew Roast Duck. Hang-up roast is, just like the way it is called, the ducks are hung up above the fire until they look shining with oil. Stew roast is to burn the oven first and then put the duck in, put off the fire. The remaining heat will stew the duck. So the cooked ducks are tender inside and crispy outside, oily but not greasy.

    The history of Beijing Roast Duck can be traced back to as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) when it was listed among the imperial dishes in the Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages, written in 1330 by Hu Sihui, an inspector of the imperial kitchen. Details regarding the cooking process were also described in this early cookbook.

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    In the early 15th century, when the Ming Dynasty capital was shifted from Nanjing to Beijing, roast duck remained one of the famous dishes on imperial court menus. According to the local history, the earliest roast duck restaurant in Beijing was the old Bianyifang Restaurant, which opened during the Jiajing reign (1522-1566). Distinct from the method in which the duck is hung from a hook in the ceiling of the oven and roasted over burning wood, the Old Bianyifang Restaurant roasted its ducks with radiant heat. The walls of the oven were first heated with sorghum stalks whereupon the duck was placed inside and cooked by the heat given off by the walls.

    A duck roasted in this manner is crisp to the touch and golden brown in appearance; its flesh is both tender and tasty.

    During the Qianlong period (1736-1796), roast duck was a favorite delicacy of the upper classes. According to Recipes from the Suiyuan Garden, the famous cookbook written by the poet and gourmet Yuan Mei, Roast duck is prepared by revolving a young duckling on a spit in an oven. The chefs of Inspector Fengs family excel in preparing this dish. Other scholars, after dining on roast duck, were inspired to poetry. In one collection of old Beijing rhymes (Duan Zhuzhici) one of the poems reads: Fill your plates with roast duck and suckling pig. Another contemporary annotation reads: When an official gives a banquet he will choose dishes to please each of his guests. For example, Bianyifangs roast ducks

    Today the Beijing Roast Duck is made of a special variety of duck fattened by forced feeding in the suburbs of Beijing. After ducks are slaughtered and cleaned, air is pumped under the skin to separate it more or less from the flesh. And a mixture of oil, sauce and molasses is coated all over it. Thus, when dried and roasted, ducks will look brilliantly red as if painted. Perhaps that is why it is known among some Westerners as the canard lacquer or "lacquered duck."

    Before being put in the oven, the inside of the fowl is half filled with hot water, which is not released until the duck has been cooked. For oven fuel, jujube-tree, peach or pear wood is used because these types of firewood emit little smoke and give steady and controllable flames with a faint and pleasant aroma. In the oven, each duck takes about forty minutes to cook, and the skin becomes crisp while the meat is tender.

    The Quanjude Restaurant, the most famous roast duck restaurant in Beijing, opened for business in 1979. Located near Hepingmen Gate, it has a floor space of 15,000 square meters divided into 41 dining halls, including one, which can serve 600 customers simultaneously. The dining halls reserved for overseas guests can accommodate a total of 2,000 persons, and include a hall where all-duck banquets, in which all the dishes are made from parts of the duck, can be served to 600 people. Filled to capacity, Quanjude Restaurant can serve as many as 5,000 meals a day

    The roast duck restaurants of Beijing are distinguished by their nicknames: the Big Duck, on Qianmen Avenue, an older restaurant not described above; the Small Duck, the old Bianyifang Restaurant; the Wall Street Duck, the Quanjude Restaurant, the largest and newest addition to the Beijing duck family at Hepingmen Gate (described above); And the Sick Duck, so called due to its proximity to the Peking Union Medical College Hospital.