What are the Chinese dishes most known to foreigners? Indisputably, Peking Duck, a kind of roast duck, should be listed at the forefront. Roast duck has a long history dating back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties more than a thousand years ago during which “roast duck” was recorded in the “Book of Fine Dining.” In the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang set his capital in Nanjing and ordered the royal chef to roast a “lake duck” over a charcoal fire until crispy but not greasy, laying the prototype for today's Peking Duck. Later, Emperor Chengzu moved his capital from Nanking to Beijing together with the popularity of roast duck. During the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1507-1567 AD), the popularity of roast duck was making its ways from the royal court to the common people. Before long, the first of the first generation of roast duck restaurants was opened at Mishikou of the Caishikou Alley in Beijing. It was named “Jinling Roast Duck” to note that Jinling was the ancient name for Nanking. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD), roast duck was still a very popular dish, being the favorite of emperors and their royal families.
According to a classic written at that time, the “Bamboo Leaf Pavilion Notes" stated that "Royal relatives would exchange roast ducks on seniors’ birthdays," namely roast ducks were seen as the best of all gifts. A perfect roast duck calls for special skills and experience. The duck must have been reared for at least 60 to 65 days and weighs between 2.5 to 3.5 kg. During the rearing period, young duck are let free to feed themselves, but they must be fed manually in the remaining 15 to 20 days, once every 6 hours day and night, until they look plump for roasting. Thus, a Peking Duck is also known as a “Fed-duck.” After slaughtering and cleaning, the carcass must be inflated and sewn up before being put into the oven, so as to effectuate a crispy skin. It is usually served in front of the guests by cutting into slices the tender meat together with the crispy skin. Thus, it is also known as the “Slice-skin Duck.”.
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