Beijing Kaoya (北京烤鸭)

If you are going to Beijing, you definitely cannot miss out on Beijing Kaoya, a.k.a. Beijing roasted duck, my favorite Beijing dish. Originally a dish that was exclusively served to the emperors of China in the Ming Dynasty, Beijing Kaoya gained popularity among the affluent class of society during the Qing Dynasty, then among the rest of China during the 19th century to eventually become a quintessential Chinese dish that attracts not only Chinese locals but also tourists from all over the world. Since then Beijing Kaoya has not only become an iconic dish of Chinese cuisine, but also a part of the people’s national pride.

The most distinctive feature of Beijing Kaoya is its crispy skin that is served on top of thin slices of meat. Diners usually coat the skin with sugar and garlic sauce to enjoy the combination of crisp, sweet, and sour. At the same time, diners also wrap the meat pieces in a small steamed crepe (chūn bǐng) with thin slices of cucumber, spring onion, a sweet bean sauce and devour the wrap by hand.

photo of Top China Travel

The dish utilizes every part of the duck; nothing goes to waste when preparing Beijing Kaoya! After the skin and the meat have been trimmed, the remaining parts of the duck (bones, fat, tendons, etc.) are usually used with ginger and a kind of vegetable to make a tasty broth, which is served at the end of the meal. I especially like the broth because it washes away the after-taste of duck skin at the end.

ducks are hung on hooks and roasted in a brick oven

Beijing Kaoya is also special for its preparation and presentation process. After the duck has been hand-plucked and washed, air is pumped underneath the duck’s skin to perfectly separate its skin from its fat layers. This process is crucial to prevent the skin from tasting like fat, a crucial characteristic of the dish. Then the duck is soaked in boiling water, glazed in maltose syrup, and hung to dry on a rack for 24 hours before being roasted in a brick oven. I was surprised to learn from my server that the preparation method of Beijing Kaoya has not changed at all since it was served to Chinese emperors in the 14th century.

Diners may also find the presentation process exciting. A server would present the whole roasted duck on a cart, trim the skin, slice the meat, and organize the goods on a plate right before their eyes.

Hello, China!

Summer Palace

I stepped out of the airport completely drained from my sleepless 13-hour flight and awfully sweaty from the long wait to get through customs. The last time I spoke a word in Chinese was almost six weeks ago, so it wasn’t surprising that as I stepped out of the airport and saw a Chinese lady holding up the brightest yellow sign that said NDiB, I, exhausted yet somehow fully aware of the Language Pledge that this program would reinforce, was almost too afraid to approach her. However, I later found out through my terribly broken Chinese that she would be teaching 2nd-Year Chinese; she would be my teacher!

The Language Pledge was not officially implemented until the first day of class, when each of us signed a “contract” to promise that we would only speak Chinese during the entire program. Yes, I was warned that the Pledge would be challenging, but little did I know that I would still struggle with it after one full week of being here. Although I did not expect myself to be able to communicate fluently by now, I definitely thought that after one week I would have felt more comfortable carrying out basic conversations with others in Chinese. The strange, ironic feeling I got, however, was that the more I learned during the past week of class, the more incapable I felt of my Chinese abilities. It suddenly hit me that wow! Chinese is indeed an incredibly difficult language, and perhaps the objectives I set out for myself prior to the trip was unrealistic. There was no way I could come close to speaking fluent Chinese even after two months of being immersed in the Chinese culture. Understanding that it won’t get any easier from here, I only hope that I would soon get used to the struggle of communicating in Chinese. Although it might be frustrating, I must learn to embrace the challenge.

Besides that, my first week here was full of exciting things! My classmates and I did not wait too long to kick-start our adventure in Beijing. After our Placement Test on Saturday (the day after we flew in), we went out to explore the Summer Palace to tick off the first box on my Beijing must-do list. We also went to Nanluoguxiang, a famous old, traditional neighborhood, Tiananmen, and tried Beijing Kaoya (roasted duck) and scorpions.

Eating scorpions on Wangfujing Street







However, I’m still not used to sitting in class for four consecutive hours every day. In fact, once I get out of class I cannot bring myself to do any more work. With that being said, I have created for myself a slightly different schedule than others’ to maximize my experience here in Beijing. I sacrifice my sleep and wake up early to complete my homework and prepare for quizzes before class. In return, I get to spend my afternoon and night exploring different parts of Beijing with, if not my classmates, my siblings, who are also in Beijing for their study abroad program. I have realized that as long as I keep myself busy exploring new things, I won’t be too overwhelmed by the academic aspect of the program. In addition, venturing out and interacting with local people is, in my opinion, the best way to practice Chinese and truly learn the culture.

brother, Julie, and sister in Sanlitun
our new friend, the tuktuk driver