A Tale of Two Ducks and dinner at XiHeYaYuan, Beijing

There is a wild wind blowing in Beijing. It’s rattling the windows of Shane and Shan’s 21st floor apartment. And if you watch closely you can see the other block sway. It’s making an adventure of the walk to the neigbourhood restaurant, requiring me to keep a vice like grip on the handles of Dermot’s buggy to avoid him and me being bowled over by its force and catching underneath the hood to spin it back sharply, exposing him to the majestic strength of the elements on the city street.
The wind merely adds to the obstacle course that’s involved in venturing out with a toddler along the sidewalks of this manic city. Footpaths disappear into a heap of rubble forcing you out onto the busy thoroughfare. “Green for go” pedestrian crossings give only the vaguest indication that you might have right of way. Taxis change lanes erratically veering onto the footpaths at a whim to drop off their passengers. Drivers slam open their doors or take off at speed without casting a backward glance to check for unsuspecting pedestrians. A man manouevres a  motorised tricycle laden with market produce down the cycle lane while smoking a cigarette and talking on his mobile phone.
And that’s just on our road – Jiang Tai Xi Lu – in the north east of Beijing
Unfazed by all this, Dermot is loving his evening jaunt to the local Peking Duck restaurant XiHeYaYuan at the Indigo Shopping Mall. He is absorbing the sights and sounds of his native city and enjoying the force of the gale on his face, as he tries to play “peep oh” with the windbreak on his buggy.
He was equally unfazed by our arrival this morning, greeting us with laughter and bao bao (hugs), careering around the apartment to show us his new found skills and deciding that suitcases on wheels are far more fun than any toys or books they contain.
Inside the Indigo Shopping Mall all is calm and piped music soothes the windswept as newly middle class Beijingers explore this westernised wonderland before choosing one of the stylish restaurants around the glass dome-covered courtyard for their evening meal.
XiHeYaYuan is one of those restaurants and has become our restaurant of choice for the first or last night of our visits since it opened last March. I reviewed it on the blog last April. It may be a modern, chain restaurant but it knows how to serve a perfect roast duck as well as a host of Sichuan inspired specialities.

Our hosts
Our hosts

The Drinks List!
The Drinks List!

A whole Peking Duck carved at our table
A whole Peking Duck carved at our table

"Now what shall I choose?"
“Now what shall I choose?”

Once again we let Shan do the ordering. We polish off the duck while she chooses 8 dishes in all including rice and noodles.
In keeping with Chinese tradition, there are two cold dishes – Sichuan spicy noodles and a cold vegetable – wo sun, spiced with jalapeno peppers, which Shan says is a member of the asparagus family but I don’t recognise it.
Some of the dishes are familiar – dan dan noodles, Sichuan fried green beans cut small the way Shan prepares them and a lattice of pork-filled pot-sticker dumplings with black vinegar dipping sauce.
Two of the dishes are new to me – a “Drying Pot” dish of potato slices with onions – gan guo tu dou pian, chillies and thinly sliced pork belly in an aromatic sauce cooking away over a burner at our table. Edamame beans, speckled with mince and tasty but not spicy. The names don’t always have a direct translation and I will be searching my Fuchsia Dunlop cookery books when I get home in an effort recreate them.
Sichuan delights
An array of Sichuan delights

Pot-sticker Dumplings
Pot-sticker Dumplings

Licking the plate clean
“Sure I had to lick my plate clean!”

There is lots of food on the table but because it is mostly vegetarian with just traces of pork and beef we don’t feel over full at the end. It certainly satisfies my need for a Sichuan kickstart to the holiday though. And the total cost of the meal for the four of us and Dermot? 504 rmb or just €60.
After the meal Dermot and I go walk about, or at least he potters around the courtyard as I trail after him. He is charming every one he encounters, flirting with pretty young Chinese women, making friends and swapping bao bao hugs with a little boy who calls him “younger brother” and looking back once in a while to check that I am still there and that he has permission to venture just a little bit further.
As we trundle home once again through the evening traffic, night falls and a perfect crescent moon hangs over this city of contrasts – the wind has earned its keep. It has blown away the smog to give us a rare star-lit sky.
I check my in-box when I get in to find that Claire and Mike have cooked Peking Duck in Sydney so that they will feel closer to us and their godson.  She didn’t know we were also having duck tonight – food connecting our family across the continents once again.
Claire's splendid Peking Duck
Claire’s splendid Peking Duck

Very authentic looking Claire!
Very authentic looking Claire!