As a child, the city was known to me as Peking until it became Beijing (北京) after China made a move to standardise all its geographical names in Mandarin. I am told by elder Chinese that Beijing was popularly known as Peking to the rest of the world due to foreigners being introduced to it pronounced under different Chinese dialects. To this day the widely loved Beijing-style roast duck (北京烤鴨), commonly served with pancakes/crêpes, hoisin sauce (海鮮醬), cucumber sticks and spring onion segments, is still known as Peking duck. Regardless of its name, it is a beautiful dish of duck with thin and crispy skin and is not to be confused with Cantonese roast duck found on display in barbeque shops.
When Monsieur Poisson’s friend, Mr Tokyo, was in back in town for a visit, a dinner was quickly arranged with a couple of other friends and venturing somewhere for Peking duck immediately sprang to mind. Monsieur Poisson tells me that Mr Tokyo is known to have eaten a whole Peking duck by himself during their high school days, so that was reason enough to visit somewhere for this dish!
And although not run by Beijingnese people, nor exclusively featuring only Beijingnese dishes on their menu, Eastwood Garden Peking is of consistent quality and in a convenient location for us. The constant hum of patrons and queue of people in the doorway even on ‘quiet’ weeknights are among the reasons that keep us coming back.
So we start with the signature Peking duck served two ways – our second style of choice is for the remainder of the duck meat to be served as ‘sang-choi bau’ (生菜包). The accompanying pancakes are warm and soft, the hoisin sauce sweet to offset the spices used to marinate the duck, and the cucumber and spring onion segments offer crunch in an otherwise stodgy ‘wrap’. The duck skin is smooth and glistening and its only downfall is that it has been sliced with too much meat attached. This is a personal gripe of mine though as, in days gone by, common practice was to present pretty much only the skin cut into neat squares for wrapping. These days even in Asia, you will find a lot meat attached to the slices of skin when it is served.
The remaining meat from the duck is usually offered either as ‘sang-choi bau’ or stir-fried either with rice or rice vermicelli noodles at most places. We have opted for the messy choice of ‘sang-choi bau’ in this instance (definitely not date food!) with the duck meat tossed with diced onion and other crunchy bits and served on perfectly trimmed rounds of iceberg lettuce.
Mr Tokyo puts in a request for the northern Chinese specialty of hot and sour soup (酸辣湯). It arrives abundant with strips of cloud-ear fungus, firm tofu, bamboo shoots and pork as well as swirls of beaten egg. The heat comes from the very obvious use of ground white pepper, whereas I prefer it when places use chilli oil instead. Nonetheless, the contrasting texture of the smooth tangy broth with the mostly crunchy ingredients is wonderful.
In a bid to have some vegetables in our meal, we order the ‘Chinese cabbage soup with green bean vermicelli, pork and shrimp’ which is more a descriptive naming of this dish. In Chinese it is known literally as ‘sand-clay pot Chinese cabbage’ (砂鍋津白) and is in a pork broth base which gives its distinctive milky colouring. Thin slices of tender pork belly can be found throughout and I especially enjoy this dish with some rice stirred through, pseudo-congee style.
We also order the ‘King prawns in sweet chilli sauce’ which is an attempt at ‘Kung-pao prawns’ (宮保蝦球), itself a variation of ‘Kung-pao chicken’. The batter is too thick and the sauce a far cry from what it is meant to be, so it won’t be something we’ll be trying again.
We finish with a serve of ‘Snow Crab’ (塞旁蟹) which has crab meat stir-fried with eggwhite. It is served topped with a raw egg yolk which is then mixed in along with Chinese black vinegar. (Unfortunately the waitress was too quick for me and I didn’t manage to catch a ‘before’ shot.) On this occasion, the eggwhite is not as smooth as we’ve had on previous visits but I still like the slippery combination which makes for great comfort food when mixed with a bowl of plain rice.
The boys can’t say no to dessert and order a deep-fried ice-cream each. Monsieur Poisson has his au naturel whereas Mr Tokyo has his with chocolate topping. I pass on both these options as they are things I’ve left behind with my childhood, but – who knows? – I could redevelop a liking for them in the future!
Eastwood Garden Peking (伊士活)
167 Rowe St, Eastwood NSW
Tel: (02) 9804 1289
Opening Hours: 7 days 11am-10:30pm