Peking Duck, to be precise. Well, any duck will do, but in this instance I had the aforementioned Chinese preparation of the waterfowl on a recent dinner in Chinatown. Kira and I had just seen a show, and rather than puzzle out which restaurant would serve us at such a late hour, we walked to Chinatown, which, I’m told, is generally open deep into the after-hours for night-crawlers like ourselves.
It’s been years since I had Peking Duck, but after the giddiness of the show, and a few giddy cocktails, I had to share it with Kira and remember the night. I still recall the other two times I tried the dish – the first was at my cousin Lee Marie’s wedding rehearsal dinner. I must have only been about ten years old. My Aunt ordered for the table, and when it came around someone showed my brother and me how to properly assemble it. Part soft taco and part burrito by way of China, it was both fun for a kid, and insanely tasty for an adult. I fell in love instantly, but the extravagant price and preparation time put it far from my mind.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I had it again – this time in Washington, DC, with my Uncle Roberto. I was treating him to dinner at one of his favorite Chinese restaurants, and, perhaps because I was doing the treating (or, more accurately, my parents’ credit card was doing the treating) he went for the Peking Duck. It was the first time I’d thought about the dish since that wedding, and in one fell swoop he brought back one happy family memory, while making a new one. We sat at the table leisurely awaiting its preparation. Far from being annoyed or antsy about the prep time, I relished the moments alone with my Uncle. The restaurant was cool and slightly sterile, but a welcome relief from the heat of high noon. Is there anywhere hotter than Washington, DC on a summer afternoon?
When the dish arrived it took up half the table, which was suddenly and extravagantly laid out with all the culinary accoutrements, including that criminally delicious hoisin sauce. Taking our time and savoring the meal – it was as much a treat for me as it was for my Uncle – we gorged ourselves on duck and tea, the two of us finishing almost all of it, in addition to a few other side dishes. I don’t remember what, if anything, we talked about. It was one of those memories that exists in emotional and sensory recollection only – not for the topics or discussion at hand, and if my Uncle were still alive he would likely not remember it. But for me – and for the kid I once was – it was one of the best lunches I ever had.
On this particular evening, almost ten years after my Uncle has passed, I take my friend Kira to a restaurant in Chinatown and order the Peking duck for her – for us – and I share the memories I have of the dish.