Beijing gets its ducks in a row for heavenly roast

BEIJING Mon Aug 4, 2008 11:58pm EDT

1 of 3. Roast duck is prepared at Quanjude restaurant in Beijing August 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Gaillard

BEIJING (Reuters) - Time to sing along to the award-winning company anthem, "100-Year Flame."

The staff line up in neat rows for a rousing chorus of "It gives out fragrance, it gives out life. Its passion is even hotter than the oven flame."

What on earth are they singing about?

The unlikely answer is a Peking Duck.

"It connects to the world and makes friends globally," the 20-strong staff choir sing, extolling the virtues of China's famed national dish.

Try telling that to the ducks roasting in neat lines as the chef plucks them out of a roaring wood oven.

For the Quanjude restaurant, which has played host to scores of world leaders from Fidel Castro to George Bush Sr., is pulling out all the stops for its Olympic visitors.

Its 18 banqueting halls are named after Olympic host cities. Even the vegetables have an Olympic theme -- from the discus mushrooms and bean shoot javelins to the baby corn baseball bats and shrimp-shaped Olympic torch.

"He who has never been to The Great Wall is not a true man while he who has never had a taste of Quanjude roast duck will regret," they tell you in the restaurant.

Two of the chefs put on an impressive display of noodle whirling until the strands are as fine as hair. A waitress and a chef put on a spectacular sword fight. The ducks would not have stood a chance against them.

The slaughtered ducks, each carefully numbered, are dipped into boiling water. The feathers are removed and air blown into the body to stretch it out. The carcass is covered in syrup before it is flame-broiled.

Then comes a vast, gut-busting all-duck banquet. Everything gets used -- the meat. innards, head, wings and webs. They are eaten hot, cold, boiled, fried, stewed and pickled.

But the piece de resistance is the roast duck, dipped in plum sauce and wrapped in wafer-thin pancakes with slivers of shallot and cucumber.

Little wonder then that former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a renowned trencherman, reportedly put his hand on his stomach after his duck feast and told staff, "When I entered the restaurant I wore my suit with buttons done. But now I have to undo them. All my friends have undone their buttons."

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)