Do as the Chinese Do, Eat as the Chinese Eat

In Beijing (北京) Da Dong (大董) is the place to go to for roast duck. According to Time Magazine, it is number nine on the ten things to do in 北京. Luckily, for me and my fellow classmates, I do not have to spend five hours on a train to eat great roast duck.

Da Dong opened up in Shanghai (上海) in 2013 in the IAPM mall in Jing’An – pretty great news for all Shanghainese (including myself – when does it become appropriate for me to call myself a Shanghainese? Four months seems pretty reasonable.)

Last weekend, I went to Da Dong, after hearing from my 妈妈 that it was really good, and it was super close to her hotel. So, I went with my friend Chloe and my mum, to see if it was all that great.

I think interesting, would be the best way to describe our experience at Da Dong. Firstly, they have what they call their “Da Dong Martini Series.” There are many things wrong with that statement. Firstly, why is it a series? I don’t know. It’s not really artwork, and it wasn’t a sequence of martinis (but hey, that’d be pretty nice). Secondly, why is this traditional Chinese restaurant making martinis? It just seems a little off.

The flavors were as follows: Green Apple, Peach, Plum, Blueberry and something called Hawthorn (I think a hawthorn is a little dark red plum). I ordered Plum. And Chloe, looking at the menu with confusion and knowing something wasn’t sitting right, politely stated she didn’t want anything to drink. Then, the cute Chinese waiter who was serving us, said 等一下 and proceeded to go over to a little stand and pour her a glass of free wine. To all my friends back home – this wasn’t any wine. This was goon. Boxed wine. The restaurant was giving out free goon – pretty good, right?

Then, we sat down, ordered (what we thought was) a pretty standard meal. The roast duck (with the condiments of hoisin sauce, cucumber, spring onions, sugar – and additions of rock melon), stir-fried broccoli, stir-fried eggplant and cold beef noodles with soy paste.

Turns out, those are not the usual dishes that people order. A family of three sat down next to us. A mother, her son and daughter- both very very cute – and it was clear that this was a casual dinner for the three of them. They ordered very differently.

In this order, this is what arrived on their table:

  1. Toffee apples. Or where they glace cherries. We still aren’t quite sure.
  2. Watermelon juice topped with ice cream out of a whipped cream dispenser and was supposedly meant to go with the glace cherry things.
  3. Something that resembled meat in soy sauce – it could have been chocolate sauce, we didn’t know. Until the family proceeded to give us a bowl of it, after noticing that we were in complete shock at the items on their table. Turns out it was a cold chicken dish, soaked in chilli oil. Not bad, just ridiculously spicy.
  4. A spoonful of green peas. Literally, one spoonful of green peas. On a plate. Kind of weird.
  5. Duck tongues. Probably the weirdest thing I’ve seen. They look like this chewy stick, that has been ripped down the middle half way. Check them out here. I admire those children for munching on the little tongues. Little troopers.
  6. Roast duck – this was the only thing I actually recognised on their table.
  7. Little crab apples on a bed of dry ice. For presentation purposes, I guess.
  8. What looked like black sesame paste/goo. In a bowl.

The last two items we also got given – the crab apples had a very satisfying crunch with very little return of flavour. Just something not quite right. And I have a strong personal distaste for black sesame. It was also warm with a weird consistency.

However, the duck was truly amazing. The skin, which is eaten on its own, was crunchy and melted in your mouth almost simultaneously. The meat, which you ate with either a pastry bun (see images below) or in a traditional pancake. The broccoli was also sensational, as were the cold beef noodles.

I could probably eat five hundred of those little pastry buns, and probably a thousand little paper pancakes.

If you ever get a chance – go check out Da Dong in Shanghai. If your experience is anything like mine was, it’ll be truly memorable.

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Bella 冯茵

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