In 2018, Wayne Wen decided to move back to Beijing to learn about the secret of Peking duck, a famous Chinese dish that originated in China’s capital city. Six months later, he came back to San Francisco, where he’s been a “duck chef” ever since.
“We want to bring some authentic Peking roasted duck here,” Wen said, speaking in Chinese in his Lower Haight restaurant, YH-Beijing. “Especially the traditional way of multiple servings.”
In Mandarin Chinese, those multiple servings are called “liang chi (两吃)” or “saan chi (三吃),” which translates to eating the duck in two steps or in three. Wen explained that, in Beijing, as he learned from the 159-year-old restaurant Quanjude (全聚德)—which also happens to be the biggest Peking duck restaurant name in China—the two-step option is ideal.
How does Wen serve his? First, after the duck is roasted in an open oven for 45 minutes, he slices and serves it to diners within seven minutes to maintain its warm, crispy taste. Wen said that Peking duck usually has more “fat” than the duck used in Cantonese-style barbecue "siu laap (烧腊)," so the meat is served with steamed spring pancake, onion, cucumber and a sweet sauce to balance its oily flavor.
“You just roll them all together with the spring pancake like a burrito, and eat it,” Wen said.
Since Peking duck is carved using only the best parts, some smaller pieces of meat remain alongside the bones. Therefore, for the second course, Wen fries the bones with salt and pepper or boils them into a soup with soft tofu and mushroom.
Wen’s restaurant offers only the soup option for the second course, as most Americans would not prefer the salt-and pepper-bones. Too little meat, he said.
But you can try the fried option at Chili House SF, a restaurant in the Richmond District that’s also known for its authentic Peking duck. There, prior to the pandemic, the chef would also slice the duck in front of you. It's all part of San Francisco's ongoing revival of high-end Chinese cuisine.
In addition to these two Peking duck preparations, Wen at YH-Beijing developed another course in between the sliced meat and the soup—lettuce wraps with minced duck meat, jicama and mushroom.
“That‘s a bit of an innovation for Americans,” Wen said.
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Han Li can be reached at [email protected]