Dinner at King Fung Garden.

Something I’d been meaning to do for a while was get myself down to King Fung Garden in Chinatown because I absolutely love duck. I relate so much to Catherine Zeta-Jones’s character in Traffic, when she says it’s a fatty bird — she delivers this line in such a way that she appears simultaneously enamored and appalled. Ultimately, the character turns out to be not very likable, but I don’t care; I have an almost ridiculous fondness for duck, and I understand exactly what she meant.

So take that idea one step further, and imagine how I feel about Peking duck… The idea of eating one was made even more exciting because I haven’t had Peking duck probably in about ten years; come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had Peking duck in the States before.

If you go to King Fung specifically for Peking duck, you must call ahead with at least twenty-four hours’ notice; don’t expect to be able to simply walk in and order duck off of the menu, though it is listed there for ($34.00). That time is needed to prepare the bird in the traditional fashion, which involves shooting air between the duck’s skin and its flesh in order to separate one from the other.

Peking duck at King Fung is served in the very traditional three ways, the first of which is my absolute favorite way to eat duck in the entire world. (I am not kidding.) The crispy, fatty skin is removed from the bird and served with hoisin sauce, crêpes and scallion — which King Fung serves in really pretty flares that we kept on referring to as “fireworks.”

Eating this kind of Peking duck is easy: smear a crêpe with a dollop or two of hoisin, center a strip of skin on the crêpe, and arrange some scallions on top of the skin before rolling the entirety up into a cylinder. The perfect bite will have a bit of each element.

The second preparation of duck was again very classic: a stir fry of the meat, with bean sprouts, greens and carrots. Flavor-wise, it was very subtle; honestly, I can’t say if I liked this dish or not. I was simply so thrilled with the first style of Peking duck that it would have been so very impossible for any other item on the table to outshine it. This straightforward dish was really nice, don’t get me wrong — it just must be said that the first take on Peking duck is the most flavorful, hands down.

It’s my understanding that Peking duck was originally conceived as a method of cooking that would use all elements of the bird, which is why first the skin is consumed, followed by the flesh. After all of that, what could possibly be utilized next?

Well, since you mentioned it… The last preparation of duck made use of the bones. Stewed and roasted, they make a light and mild broth, in which some firm tofu cubes were floating. The broth also held some fine glass noodles; when I was younger, I used to call them “swimming noodles” because it’s all but impossible to snag any of these slippery strands with a spoon. The only solution is to twirl them up with a fork à la spaghetti, otherwise frustration can easily prevent me from eating much of a soup such as this. Aggravation aside, I helped myself to seconds; like the duck and crêpes, I love this kind of soup. I find it so satisfying, without being dense and heavy.

When I rang up King Fung the day before to request my duck, I mentioned that I would be part of a party of four — Joann, Keith, Melissa and me. I asked, “Is one duck going to be enough?” The response was, “You’re going to want to more food.”

With that in mind, we ordered several other dishes to round out our table, the first of which was an order of scallion pancakes — which were listed as “scallion pie” on the menu ($2.95). Some people may find this sort of pancake too greasy, as it is fried in oil; to those people I say “Shove over.” I’ll happily eat your share; these crispy triangles are crunchy and flavorful, and I absolutely love them. King Fung’s are terrific. Even if we hadn’t set out to supplement our Peking duck with some additions, I would have insisted upon this.

We also decided to go with some steamed pork buns ($5.50 for ten mini buns). While quite delicious, I think we were all surprised when the cheerful waitress brought the plate to the table. I know I was expecting more of a bread-like item as opposed to a dumpling; maybe it’s just all semantics.

In the end, it didn’t really matter because these were so unbelievably tasty. My only word of advice in relation to these buns/dumplings is to wait until everything has stopped billowing steam before attempting to eat one. Otherwise you are guaranteed to burn your tongue, or at least the roof of your mouth. Also, bite into these little purses with the utmost care as the pork’s juices are contained by the wonton. (I suppose that’s two pieces of advice, but who’s counting?) More than one of us dribbled broth down our fronts. It was quite glamorous.

As with the scallion pancakes, our last dish was something I would have insisted upon had my friends not also agreed: Shanghai chow mein ($5.50). I flat-out, thoroughly and wholly love egg noodles; I love their flavor, and the amount of resistance they offer in the mouth. It’s without a doubt an item I could eat for every meal for several days, so there was simply no way I could pass these up.

We realized early in that we had ordered way too much food for four people, but you know what? It didn’t matter. Everything we got was great; even the stir-fried duck, whose only fault was in coming to the table immediately after the lovely skin, was very good. If it had come first, I know I wouldn’t feel such guilt for so blatantly preferring its predecessor.

If you decide to get some duck, you must be prepared for is King Fung’s sheer smallness — the space used to be a gas station and now there are less than ten teensy tables inside, another reason why phoning in advance for your duck is a good idea. More than one group of people stuck their heads in the door, only to turn away upon seeing that each chair in the room was taken. And with good reason.

King Fung Garden
74 Kneeland Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111

King Fung Garden on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at Hei La Moon.

It’s been a while since I’ve had dim sum, so when Beth asked me to meet up at Hei La Moon this past Sunday I almost felt as though I had no say in the matter. As I was running a little late — I blame the Sunday subway schedule! — by the time I maneuvered through the throngs of tourists and market-goers crowding Chinatown’s streets, more than a few carts had rolled past my friends’ table.

Truthfully, I can’t even fully describe the sheer amount of food we plowed through. Yes, there were six of us — Alyssa, Beth, Dan, Guillaume, Kristy and me — but frankly, the food came and went so quickly that not even a diner with photographic memory could recall it all. Heck, not even my camera could capture it all. There were the shrimp folded into rice noodles, char siu baau (barbecue pork dumplings), the spring rolls, the sticky fried rice, jiaozi (steamed pork and vegetable dumplings), meatballs rolled in rice, dou hua (silken tofu with sweet syrup), dumplings stuffed with bean paste…

My favorite, hands down, were the char siu baau. The sweet barbecue cradled inside the steamed buns is delicious, but that’s not the only reason why I like them so much. It’s sentimental, since the flavor brings to mind two things — sho pao (also spelled sio pao), a similar Filipino item, and the long strips of barbecued meat that hang in the windows of Hong Kong take-out shops — that both remind me of my maternal grandfather, who died less than three weeks ago. He was a great lover of food, and just as great a lover of travel; from when I was a little girl up until my late teens, it was mostly with him that I traipsed around Asia, eating everything that looked interesting, or at least smelled good. Walking through Chinatown to get to Hei La Moon made me think about him too, and how difficult it would have been, towards the end of his life, for me to push his wheelchair past the hunchbacked Chinese grannies haggling over the price of bok choy. I don’t think I would have minded, though. He would have loved the dim sum.

But back to the topic at hand…

One thing that is absolutely amazing about Hei La Moon is its sheer size. Like so many other restaurants in Chinatown, the space is cavernous. And like a cavern, sound echoes. In this case it’s the sonance of waitstaff trying to tempt diners with the contents of their carts, children teasing each other across the table, chopsticks clicking and the raised voices of your tablemates. Trust me, you’ll be shouting.

A big plus about breakfast at Hei La Moon? Our meal came to twelve dollars a person, including tip. That’s pretty tough to top, considering we almost ate our collective weight in dumplings. How I would love to have my own little dim sum cart to wake me up each Sunday — a very dangerous thought indeed. It would be far better for my waistline to take a walk down Beach Street.

Hei La Moon
88 Beach Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111

Hei la Moon on Urbanspoon