Katy Fentress discovers a most unlikely of locations to get Peking Duck in Nairobi – as long as you know to ask for the second menu that is
My brother is fond of recounting the tale of the time he had 24 hours to kill in Beijing (having just spent a month volunteering in Outer Mongolia where he had eaten nothing but boiled potatoes and meat) and decided he absolutely had to taste the most famous dish to ever come out of Beijing: Peking Duck. Peking Duck is a sweet roasted duck that is served shredded and wrapped in a thin pancake with sliced cucumbers, spring onions and a dollop of sweet plum sauce. When cooked right, with the skin all crispy and the meat moist from basting in its own fat for hours, it is the stuff of legend.
I picture little 18-year-old Luke wandering around the streets of Beijing by himself without so much as a Lonely Planet guide to tell him where to go. In my mind he hesitantly walks into restaurants at random, mustering his courage before going through the door. He asks, in English, if they have Peking Duck and is given serving after serving of blank, noncomprehending looks. “Peking Duck? Beijing Duck?” Nothing, it seems, can get his question across. Desperate at the total communication breakdown, in one restaurant he resorts, much to the mirth of waiters and patrons alike, to flapping his arms up and down and saying “quack quack”. Sadly the story ends with Luke giving up on his quest. This being a time before TripAdvisor, it was probably not so easy to just look up where to get the best Peking Duck in town with a switch of the thumb. And in truth, my brother, who spent his entire adolescence with his head buried in a Terry Pratchett novel, was not the most street savvy 18-year-old on the block.
My personal experiences with Peking duck are almost all exclusively London-based. I used to love walking around Chinatown staring at these amber coloured fowls hanging from the windows of the restaurants, beckoning tourists and locals alike to come and indulge in a delicious shredded duck pancake. I would happily acquiesce, always on the quest to understanding what made one duck better than the other. Here in Nairobi, for some reason, I always assumed that they just didn’t make Peking Duck. That is until recently when I happened to stop for a quick lunch at Double Dragon at the Junction Mall food court. As I tucked into my vegetable fried rice (always a lunch favourite especially when accompanied by those pink and crunchy pickled onions I am so delighted by), I chatted with the amiable Chef Robert, who, after some prodding, confessed to the existence of a second menu from which, with adequate forewarning, a Peking Duck could be ordered.
The secret to Peking Duck comes from its sweet and spicy rub and, according to my research, from the act of separating the skin from the flesh so that the fat renders and bastes the meat while it is cooking. At Double Dragon, it seems that they skip the skin step, but still roast it in a large oval shape oven which allows the bird to hang freely and not come in contact with any surface.
Traditionally, the main part of the duck is reserved for the pancake wraps while the carcass is used to make a duck soup, and the remaining meat mixed into delicious salads or vegetable dishes. When I returned a week later to feast on said duck, Double Dragon had gone all out, laying dish after dish of duck variations for me to taste and indulge in.
Not a dish that is particularly easy to prepare on one’s own, this is one that is best left to the experts. Similar versions can be cooked at home though, one in particular by everyone’s favourite Jamie Oliver, looked quite user-friendly so I thought I would adopt that one instead of trying to go down the complex and time-consuming traditional method.
Photos by Peter Ndungú
Katy was a guest of the Double Dragon food court restaurant situated at the Food Court of Junction Mall.