Sandwich 33: Golden Unicorn and Prosperity Dumpling
Shortly after walking the haunting expanse of Tienanmen Square and shortly before realizing we were locked out from the majestic Forbidden City (it happens when you booze 'til 5am), I experienced my first Peking Duck. The restaurant was iconic for assigning a number to every duck they slaughter and subsequently turn into delicious, crispy, fatty perfection. Ours was number 387,794, leading me to believe this business had been operational for quite some time. It was perhaps the most decedent thing I ate in China, and its unadulterated, flawless flavor is one of the prime reasons I cannot bring myself to be a vegetarian (well, that and bacon).
Fast-forward 5 years later to New York City, August 2014. In the course of about a week, I sampled three different versions of the Peking Duck because, as Kanye would say: "My life is dope and I do dope shit." Two of the three shined forth and left a special imprint on my tongue, though the third fell tragically short. For those of you in reading land who have sampled quality, dank Peking Duck, you understand why its such a bodacious treasure. For those who haven't, understanding how it was made should motivate you to call up your nearest Chinese eatery and beg for duck in your mouth.
First off, this isn't Boston Market. You can't get a quarter duck dark. You get the whole duck or you get no duck at all. Secondly, I understand people all have their own unique aversions to food, but I truly believe that if you don't enjoy duck (for not vegetarian-reasons), you have never had properly prepared duck. It is the ultimate poultry, one of the few that can be eaten rare, and its biological composition makes it the only poultry capable of enduring the Peking Process.
The Peking Process began in Beijing, taking sixty-five day old free-range mallards and slaughtering them, plucking them, and cleaning them. Here's where it gets interesting. Air is blown under the skin of the neck cavity in order to divide skin from fat. This allows for the skin to achieve that monumentally crispy, flaky skin when it is subsequently cooked in a hanging oven. It is then brought to your table, where it is carved and eaten, which is my favorite part of the process.
The first of the two destinations was the Golden Unicorn, which served this foul in a uniquely adorned Chinatown restaurant alongside bao (Chinese style white-buns), cucumber, scallion, and a dirty black bean sauce. These were, in essence, make your own sammies, and the results were melt-in-your-mouth goodness, leading me to believe this is what Chinese people must eat in heaven.
The second spot was Prosperity Dumplings, also a Chinatown eatery, but on the other side of the spectrum. A true hole-in-the-wall joint, this dumpling destination produces some of the best dumplings, noodle soup, and scallion pancakes for so cheap you'd question the quality (and source) of their ingredients until you tasted them. Their four dollar scallion pancake stuffed with Peking Duck is a magical and oily celebration of flavors, with the savory duck balancing out the slightly greasy-scallion casing flawlessly.
Peking duck is good for the soul. Go forth, and consume the crispiness.