The vinegary dipping sauce that comes with the braised duck is magical. It carries the faintest possible hint of heat from a tiny flakes of red chilli and the earthly pungence of garlic, finely chopped and lightly scattered into the sauce. It is exactly like I remembered it, down to the last garlicky nuance.
The duck is plain duck on its own; in this rendition, the braising sauce just isn't rich and complex enough to let it fly on its own. (Don't let that stop you from moistening your rice with the braising sauce enriched with duck fat -- it makes the rice so much more toothsome.) But when the carved pieces of duck touch the sauce, something inexplicable happens. It comes alive, as the clear, crisp sourness of the dip cuts right through the rich meat, and the duck is stirred by the strength of garlic and the tickle of spiciness. It's an amazing tranformation, bringing forth a semblance of flavors that I am homesick for.
This isn't a perfect rendition of the dish by any means. The braising "master" sauce could be more stocky, encompassing darker flavors. The variant of tofu (with a dried skin) beneath all that duck comes close to the versions used back home in Singapore, but not quite.
And above all, this dish is normally made with goose, and they've substituted it with duck. It's not quite the same, but still, it's easy to forgive when one considers how rare this dish is in this country. In all these long years, I've only seen one other sighting of this dish (also a duck version) on Chowhound by Melanie Wong and Chibi, at a fairly commendable place in Milpitas, CA. Teochew/Chow Chiu/Chow Chau cuisine, from a southern part of China, is extremely rare in the US, where most of the regional Chinese cooking comes with a very strong Cantonese accent.
There's a bunch of places with Chow Chau in their names in Boston's chinatown, but on closer scrutiny, they appear to be primarily Cantonese. At least that's what their menus seem to suggest.
But Ho Yuen Ting gives me a little hope. I noticed that they had Teochew style braised goose written in Chinese in the window. I simply had to try it and so I went back tonight. The servers aren't Teochew, they're Cantonese. And unfortunately, they don't serve the goose anymore, only a duck version. But the duck is an admirable effort. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was hearty and good in its own way. (Maybe the cook is Teochew; who knows.) I wanted goose, not duck, but somehow I left happy, filled with a strange sense of satisfaction. I'll have to persuade them to make the goose version (perhaps on advance order) one of these days.