Thursday, March 30, 2023

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Rediscovering Traditional Cantonese Almond Duck

As dangerous because the pandemic has been, we’ve all wanted to search for small silver linings alongside the way in which. In my case, it’s been the rediscovery of the mid-Twentieth century Toishanese/Cantonese favourite, pressed almond duck. 

Twentieth-century Chinese language dishes reminiscent of chop suey have been described as Americanized and inauthentic. However many dishes from this period, together with chow mein, fried rice, and wonton soup, definitely are genuine, as they had been loved by the Toishanese who constituted many of the Chinese language immigrants residing in america.

As a younger little one within the midcentury, one in every of my favourite Chinese language dishes was warfare sui opp, or pressed almond duck. When you’ve by no means eaten it, it consists of deep fried shredded duck meat cubes in a gloppy brown sauce and garnished with lettuce and crushed almonds. To steal a tagline from this period, it was indescribably scrumptious.

I’m undecided precisely the place on the authenticity continuum pressed almond duck must be positioned. I doubt it could be excessive on the authenticity scale because it didn’t seem in america till maybe the Forties, when immigration from China to america had been nearly ended for a few years. This dish wasn’t introduced over by Toishanese/Cantonese immigrants. As an alternative, almond duck is related to Don the Beachcomber and Dealer Vic, a Chinese language/Polynesian style of meals that spawned such inauthentic choices as crab Rangoon and pu-pu platters. Because of its comparatively late introduction, each restaurant seemingly follows the identical unique recipe, tasting and looking out the identical nearly in all places.

Alternatively, almond duck does have ties to some extra genuine Chinese language dishes each in China and in america. Take into account the companion dish to warfare shu opp (opp being Cantonese for duck), warfare sui gai (gai being Cantonese for hen). Conflict shu gai dates again at the very least a decade earlier than warfare shu opp, and as I discussed in my piece on Chinese language-American regional specialties, is surprisingly peculiar to Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, and Louisville. Visually, the duck and hen dishes aren’t related. Conflict sui gai is a deep-fried flat hen steak that’s lower into diagonal strips. Conceptionally, nevertheless, they’re each deep-fried boneless poultry lower into bite-sized items, indicating at the very least some extent of authenticity in preparation fashion.

Right here in Los Angeles, I lower my enamel, almond duck-wise, at Paul’s Kitchen. Its neighborhood close to the Metropolis Market produce terminal served as LA’s “actual” Chinatown from the Thirties to the Nineteen Sixties. With its Chinese language companies, residents, and establishments (and with out the faintest trace of tourism), this “secret” Chinatown developed after the unique Los Angeles Chinatown was torn all the way down to make method for Union Station. The “New Chinatown” constructed just a few blocks away was conspicuously devoid of any residential areas, turning it right into a Chinese language-themed vacationer vacation spot with nearly no Chinese language residents.

When the late Nineteen Sixties introduced a rewrite of our nation’s immigration legal guidelines, the demographics of the Chinese language American neighborhood modified. Previous-time Cantonese-American delicacies started to fade. Lovers of pressed almond duck discovered fewer retailers to sate their cravings. As we speak, native on-line message boards determine only a handful of eating places scattered all through the Los Angeles space: Chinese language Backyard and Canton Metropolis in Montebello, Fu Sing in Torrance. Fortuitously, Paul’s Kitchen continues to function, even because the Metropolis Market neighborhood has been swallowed up by the adjoining garment district. Today, I wouldn’t drive to any of those scattered eateries to eat pressed duck, notably with all types of latest superb Chinese language dishes regularly arriving within the San Gabriel Valley (to not point out pressed duck tends to be an actual grease bomb, one thing I might do with out at this stage of my life).

So how has the pandemic led me to rediscover pressed almond duck? Nicely, when I described the early impact of the pandemic on Chinese language eating places, I discussed Kim’s Restaurant, which closed in March as the results of anti-Chinese language harassment. Prospects within the surrounding Crenshaw neighborhoods, initially unable to contact the house owners, rallied in assist of the restaurant and finally persuaded them to reopen.

After I lived in Crenshaw for a few years, Kim’s Restaurant was my closest Chinese language restaurant. However I seldom ate its extremely Americanized Chinese language meals, trekking first to the Metropolis Market space, then later to the San Gabriel Valley. Certainly, the one motive my household ever visited Kim’s in any respect was that one in every of our favourite waiters from On Luck Restaurant began working at Kim’s.

However after seeing what occurred with the closing and reopening of Kim’s Restaurant, I made a decision to revisit. I had truly checked out the menu a number of occasions earlier than even noticing the almond duck. I used to be shocked to seek out it, as a result of Kim’s Restaurant had by no means come up in on-line discussions seeking to discover this more and more scarce dish. After I lastly got here again, the acquainted fried duck met me with somewhat crunch inside, just a few nuts on the skin, and that fantastic gloppy brown sauce and lettuce on the facet. And guess what? Kim’s model is hardly greasy in any respect! Now, just about any time I’m within the Crenshaw space, I’m certain to be again.


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