Meizhou Dongpo is a namesake in China. Known for their signature Beijing-style roast duck and Sichuanese cuisine, the former mom-and-pop shop turned restaurant empire was chosen out of thousands of restaurants as the official food sponsor for the 2008 Olympics in China.
The Beijing restaurant chain, owned by husband and wife Wang Gang and Liang Di, is named after Wang's birthplace, Meizhou, in Sichuan province. Meizhou Dongpo is an ode to his hometown. In 1996, Wang Gang and his wife opened their first restaurant in Beijing. Since then, the couple has opened 100-plus locations around the world.
Wang Gang and Liang Di wanted to bring elevated, higher-end Chinese food to the rest of the world. Meizhou Dongpo imports their spices from China and uses locally sourced food. Because both Wang and Liang worked in the food and service industry since they were young, doing everything from washing dishes to cooking, they understood what customers wanted.
According to Lorie Liao, Meizhou Dongpo’s U.S. director of regional operations, “Chinese cuisine has unfortunately garnered a negative, stereotypical reputation in the U.S. as being a cheap, MSG-laden food choice. We see Meizhou Dongpo’s foray into the U.S. as a chance to really change people’s preconceptions on that.”
As you step foot into any of the California-based Meizhou Dongpos, you are greeted with beautiful porcelain, pottery, and silver décor adorning the ceilings and walls. The restaurants ooze opulence. The modern lanterns that hang from the ceiling and the beautiful, traditionally bound books and paintings make for a fancy backdrop.
Most of Meizhou Dongpo’s branches are in China. Their California locations currently include Arcadia, Orange County, Universal Studios and Century City. Although Meizhou Dongpo has rave reviews for their Braised Pork Belly Dong Po Rou, Dan Dan Noodles and Bang Bang Spicy Poached Sichuan Chicken, among other dishes, the Beijing-style roast duck is the showstopper.
Beijing duck, which has been prepared since the imperial era, is considered one of China’s national dishes. A properly cooked Beijing duck should have tender meat, crispy skin and should not be greasy. The dish requires an extremely knowledgeable chef to properly prepare and execute. The duck must be pumped full of air to separate the skin from the fat. It is then coated in a maltose syrup, hung to dry, and then roasted hanging up until golden brown. Meizhou Dongpo’s proprietary process for each roast duck takes 15 days.
Meizhou Dongpo’s Beijing duck is slow-roasted and sliced tableside. The duck is then carved up and rearranged meticulously on a white ceramic duck plate to resemble a duck. The dish is served alongside traditional toppings like cucumber, scallions, duck sauce, sugar, and a steamer filled with thin, pancake wrappers akin to tortillas. Meizhou Dongpo also makes their own spicy sauce to accompany their duck and offers half orders for those that don’t want to commit to a whole roast duck.
All the chefs and staff at each location have been trained by their Beijing office. They frequently send chefs and other staff to their headquarters in China to keep up quality control and make sure everyone is on the same page.
“When Meizhou Dongpo came to the U.S., we added a few dishes that would appeal to Americans, like the duck egg rolls, Kung Pao Chicken, etc., but our roast duck has really become our namesake and must-order dish,” said Liao. “Every table usually has an order, and we’re really proud of that. Westerners love it. Chinese love it. Both cultures accept that it is a traditional Chinese dish. There’s no fusion needed for that dish. It tastes exactly as it does at any of our locations.”
Temperature is very important to getting a perfect Beijing duck skin. Meizhou Dongpo has a huge USDA- approved warehouse to ensure that the temperature is perfect.
“When we first arrived in the U.S., we were busy trying to open the restaurants, and our duck quality suffered a bit. These days, I can confidently say that we’ve finally got it down. I can confidently say that it tastes the same as (in) Beijing now,” beamed Liao.
“We see Meizhou as almost a business card for China. We’re representing China, showing other people from different cultures that we can produce high-end Chinese food, good service, good food.”