Duck every which way: Nanjing's passion for poultry

Here, every body part is savored.

From chin to chest, from head to heart, from flesh roasted and stuffed in dumplings to blood congealed in soup.

These are but a few of the duck renditions on offer in the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province.

Thought Beijing’s Peking Duck, created for imperial feasts, was the last word in duck-based dishes?

Not so.

Because while duck has long prevailed in Chinese cuisine, Nanjing has always taken its duck fever onto the next level.

At its best, duck meat is juicier, its greasy skin crispier and has flavors more distinctive and nuanced than others in the poultry family.

We hit the ancient Chinese capital to try some of the essential and more surprising duck dishes on offer.

Duck blood vermicelli soup

The name “blood soup” conjures up Halloween images, and we were half expecting a seething cauldron.

But the blood in this ubiquitous local dish is curdled and cut up into small and almost flavorless cubes.

It’s the silky, sticky texture that stands out.

Much of the flavor comes from a clear broth that’s spiced with pepper and cilantro, with duck offal thrown into the mix.

Salted duck

Nanjing best dishes

The best salted duck has pale skin and pink meat.

It’s marinated in a special brine, a time-honored recipe that imbues the meat with hints of savory notes.

Served as a cold dish, this Nanjing specialty pairs well with alcohol.

Sesame pastry made with duck fat

In Nanjing, duck fat is harvested to make a truly special pastry.

This traditional and beloved street snack is a popular breakfast for Nanjingers.

It’s anointed with a slab of duck fat, giving off an aroma and flakey textures balanced out by a sesame-encrusted layer.

Baked in batches, these pastries can be found throughout Fuzimiao, an ancient Confucian temple complex located on the banks of the historic Qinhuai River that’s also a popular shopping and food market.

Duck chin

To be honest, we weren’t sure at one point if we were chewing on the jaw, tongue, or bone.

The squid-like texture means it’s more cartilage than tongue.

Meat doesn’t get leaner than this — so mostly its just nibbled for the tastes.

Jinling roast duck

Nanjing best dishes

The original story of the roast duck in China remains contested.

In Beijing it’s called Peking duck. In Nanjing it’s called Jinling duck in Nanjing.

And it’s unclear which came first.

Legend has it that Ming Dynasty emperor Zhu Di brought his favorite chefs from Nanjing when he moved the capital to Beijing, thus triggering the roast duck migration.

Served with a heap of rice or on its own, the crisp, greasy skin layered over tender meat makes it superior to other roasted poultry.

Duck shaomai

This bite-sized duck-flavored sticky rice doesn’t come wrapped in the usual lotus leaf.

It’s stuffed in a dumpling.

Glutinous rice, a classic Chinese fare, pairs wonderfully with bits of duck.

The clever use of pine nuts adds a crunch and a gently toasted flavor.

Unlike their steamed counterparts, these soupless dumplings make for nice, clean bites.

Duck soup dumplings

This xiaolongbao lookalike is almost better than the classic steamed dumpling.

It offers the same satisfying deluge of broth with each bite.

But subtly sweet roasted duck skin embedded in duck meat might just have the edge over pork.

Duck hearts… spiced

You’ll have to forgive us for not trying these out.

Spotted at a street stall, blobs of duck heart are served on each skewer, selling for just five renminbi (less than a dollar).

It’s marinated to have a slightly spicy taste, the vendor tells us.

Let us know how it tastes if you ever decide to give this a try.

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