A blog about food, in all of its weird and delicious glory.

Monday, February 5, 2007

General Tso? I wonder if he means Old Ben Tso...

The NYT Magazine has a great piece about the origins of that classic staple of Chinese take-out, General Tso's (also Zuo's, also Gao's) Chicken. Created by Peng Chang-kuei, a refugee of the Chinese Civil War who left his native Hunan province for Taiwan, this chicken dish came to the United States in the 1970's, where it was transmogrified from its origin Hunanese salty and sour taste to the sweet and spicy concoction that Americans couldn't get enough of... and still can't!

The really interesting footnote to this story is that in recent years General Tso's Chicken has returned to Hunan province, where it is now regarded as a "traditional" dish:
In 1990, Peng returned to Changsha, where he opened a restaurant that included the creation on its menu. The restaurant did not last long, and the dish was never popular (“too sweet,” one local chef told me), but some leading figures in the culinary establishment learned how to make it. And when they began to travel abroad to give cooking demonstrations, it seems quite likely that their overseas audiences would have expected them to produce that famous “Hunanese” recipe. Perhaps it would have seemed senseless to refuse to acknowledge a dish upon which the international reputation of Hunanese cuisine was largely based. Maybe it would have been embarrassing to admit that the dish was a product of the exiled Nationalist society of Taiwan. Whatever their motivations, they began to include General Tso’s chicken in publications about Hunanese cooking, especially those aimed at a Taiwanese readership.

It's articles like these that make me want to become a food historian...

2 comments:

Mike & Corinne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike & Corinne said...

This post made me laugh out loud - in my cube, no less!

- MKD