Just a decade ago, few people would have guessed our society would become this obsessed with food.
Even if Anthony Bourdain openly expressed his disdain for this glorified foodie culture, there’s still no denying that this fairly new obsession with what we eat—everything from its presentation to its makeup and origins—has put consciousness about food on the map.
But the Chinese have always loved food. The country has an ever-increasing interest in its own culinary heritage, which has effectively spawned a crop of new museums dedicated to food. The cuisine museum in Hangzhou, just one of the growing number of culinary museums in the country, cost $30 million to build.
That’s why we weren’t surprised when we heard that a roast duck museum open in Beijing last week. Quanjude, a very famous Beijing roast duck restaurant and chain (it has locations in Rangoon and Melbourne), is behind the shrine to all things roast duck. In this case, we don’t mind a little “branded content.”
Some awesome features of the exhibition, which spans 1,000 square meters, include:
- A golden duck sculpture out in the front that greets visitors
- A series of sculptures inside that detail the steps of the roast duck-making process
- A coupon from a duck sale dating back to 1901
- Advertisements from the restaurant from the Republic of China era
- Photos of former Chinese leaders eating roast duck (there’s one of president Richard Nixon eating duck with former Chinese PM Zhou Enlai)
- A gorgeous imitation duck dinner (shown below)
It’s interesting to see the museum take form under the name and fame of Peking roast duck. But historically, there was nothing Peking about the duck. Chinese food historians say that the roots of roast duck can be traced back to the southern city of Nanjing.
“Beijing roast duck is actually not a traditional Beijing-style cuisine,” says Cui Daiyuan, who writes about the city’s food culture.
The roast duck was brought over from Nanjing to Beijing during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), when workers came to the Forbidden City to help build the emperor’s palace, says Cui.
And as the story goes, the dish wasn’t formally introduced to the Beijing palate until late 19th century, when former “palace chefs” started cooking ducks in the style of roast pork because they didn’t know how to stew ducks.
No matter, we’re buying our plane tickets to Beijing, like, right now.
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