Peking duck was traditionally consumed in the imperial court, or the noble class. Ducks are air-dried, marinated and roasted in an elaborate cooking process that often consisted of several courses.
Food reporter Steve Dolinsky found one family-run restaurant in Uptown where they turn ordinary ducks from Indiana into Chinese feasts.
How much is that ducky in the window? A lot less than one might think. For just 28 bucks, the folks at Sun Wah Bar-B-Q in Uptown are offering a five-course Peking duck feast; that's per duck, not per person.
"I have yet to find someone, in Chicago, that makes Chinese duck the way we do, better than us. Not only do we have a heavier seasoning, we don't use dye. It's all natural," said Sun Wah Bar-B-Q Restaurant's Kelly Cheng.
The ducks arrive from Culver Farms in Indiana. They're air-dried, then roasted in special, vertical ovens, where they've been lacquered with seasoning and marinade. Typical first-course is simple: just pickled daikon radish. The second course is the biggie. The entire duck is wheeled out to the dining room, where it is sliced into small pieces with both skin and meat attached.
"When you're eating it, it just tastes better in your mouth, so we cut skin with duck," Cheng said.
Along with finely-shredded scallions and carrots, and a little smear of sweet hoisin sauce, the skin and meat are placed into yeast-based, rice flour pancakes, a cousin to the large, circular 'bao' you see in so many Chinese restaurants.
"We said, 'We don't want to do pancakes because what happens is, if you fold it wrong, you've got stuff dripping everywhere. If you have too little food in there, all you are eating is flour from the pancake,' and we've noticed that it makes you fuller than you want to be," said Cheng.
"I refuse to use a tortilla. You're not having a taco. You're not having a burrito here. It's Peking duck," said Cheng.
The duck returns to the kitchen, then comes back in course number three as a steaming soup, this time with salted egg and duck bones. Course number four is even simpler: fried rice embedded with bits of duck meat and bean sprouts.
The final course is refreshing: a seasonal sorbet, such as kiwi or raspberry.
In all, the entire experience runs just $28 and could easily feed two or three people. It's yet another reason Cheng says people flock to her family's restaurant.
"We are the most well-known duck place," she said.
Sun Wah BBQ
1132 W. Argyle St.
5511 N. Broadway
2131 S. Archer Ave.
Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation (benefitting Greater Chicago Food Depository and Illinois Hunger Coalition)
August 11, 6 - 9 p.m.
The Trump International Hotel and Tower
401 N. Wabash Ave.