On the plate in Nanjing
Did you know that China’s capital of Peking duck is not Beijing at all, but a city situated over 1,000 kilometres further south?
Nanjing was once the imperial capital of China. With emperors holding duck in high culinary esteem, the popularity of these feathered fowl soon spread from the royal courts to the man on the street. Today the city’s cornucopia of duck dishes is still said to reflect the more refined palette of Chinese southerners.
If the rich, saucy and altogether theatrical Peking duck typifies northern China’s heavy gastronomy, then Nanjing’s duck dishes are light and piquant, with local chefs incorporating it into everything from soups, snacks, and pastries to hors d’oeuvres, main courses, and dim sum. As the local Nanjing saying goes: “Without duck, there is no feast.”
The most famous duck dish is undoubtedly yanshuiya – or salted duck. This is marinated in a special brine, and generally served cold, with the finest examples boasting pale skin, pink meat and a delicate, mildly spiced flavour. A top spot to sample the famed yanshuiya is Jinling Hotel Plum Garden located in the business district of Xinjiekou.
Duck aside, currently making its way in the Nanjing culinary stakes is xiaolongxia (crayfish), which is usually served up in a hot and spicy chili sauce. Possibly not imperial fare, but a great way to warm up on a springtime evening. The atmospheric restaurant of Nanjing Impressions is one of the best venues to bite into the spicy crayfish trend.
Text and photos Daniel Allen