If you’re trying to find the famous Li Qun Restaurant to eat Peking duck, then put your phone away and start looking for the duck drawings on the walls. When Boyfriend and I were in Beijing, I was cautious about going to eat at a duck restaurant as he’s vegetarian and I was worried there’d be nothing for him to eat.
But luckily, Boyfriend wouldn’t let me leave Beijing without trying Peking Duck and so on our last night there, we found ourselves walking down a dark and quiet street, trying to find Li Qun, a restaurant known for its famous duck dishes. We followed Google Maps but as we got closer, we found duck drawings that helped lead us to our destination.
From the outside, Li Qun doesn’t look like much, but when you enter, you’re instantly hit with a smokey fragrance and you know that you’re in the right place. Li Qun is by no means fancy, but it’s homey with simple furniture and bright, red lanterns that hang up from the roof. The restaurant itself is quite small (I have no idea how they would accommodate big groups) and the plastic menus look like they had been worn out.
When Boyfriend and I sat, I already knew what I was going to order (hello Peking Duck pancake!) and surprisingly, they had many vegetarian options that Boyfriend could choose from. He settled for a tofu dish, I ordered my duck and what was about to happen became my favourite memory of Beijing. The food arrived not long after we ordered and when it did, I was flabbergasted by the amount of food I need to eat.
Even though I had ordered the smallest portion of duck, it was nearly the size of my head and smelt absolutely incredible to my hungry stomach. I did what I usually do when it comes to duck pancakes: picked up a piece of duck, plopped it on the pancake, added a cucumber slice and then drizzled some more sauce over the meat before wrapping it up to eat. I continued doing this until I heard a scoff come from one of the restaurant owners, a Chinese woman in her 50s, who came up to my table and proceeded to say, “You’re no Chinese! You no do it right. I show you.”
Shocked, I looked at my grinning Boyfriend and then back at the Chinese woman who had taken my chopsticks from my hand and began demonstrating the correct way to eat Peking Duck.
“You get the duck, and you dip,” she said, dipping the duck into the sauce. “Then you do this.” She smeared the duck over the pancake so that every inch was covered in sauce. Next, she placed a cucumber in the middle, filled the pancake with more duck and then wrapped it for me to try.
“Eat,” she said and as I did, I felt as I had just uncovered an ancient Chinese secret. Boyfriend was impressed and I thanked her, sticking two thumbs up as I tried to swallow the massive pancake wrap she had made me. She then went back to her table and continued the paperwork that she had previously discarded to instead teach me how to eat my dish.
It could’ve been quite easy for me to think of the experience as a rude Chinese lady offending me, but in fact, I had properly done exactly that by not eating it the way it’s meant to be eaten. What I love about travelling is that you learn something every day about the cultures and people that now surround you.
It could be knowledge about the cultural heritage, the buildings that make a city, language to express emotions or simply something as eating Peking Duck.
Have you ever been taught how to eat a dish properly by a local when travelling?