General Tso’s chicken
Here’s a fact you may not know: American Chinese cuisine is its own thing. Like, not just its own style, but its own cuisine. The food typically served in American Chinese restaurants is unique to the US, having been adapted to local tastes by enterprising members of its migrant community. Thus, we have the likes of chop suey, crab Rangoon, Mongolian beef, and egg foo young. And, of course, General Tso’s chicken.
This is a dish of boneless chicken chunks that are battered and deep-fried, and then tossed in a sticky sauce of sesame oil, chilli, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger. Served with rice and steamed broccoli, finished off with a fortune cookie, and yee-haw, you’re in the US.
There’s beef, so to speak, over who really invented General Tso’s chicken. It’s widely accepted that the dish was inspired by the cuisine of Hunan province and that it first appeared in New York City in the 1970s. The most convincing claim for its invention is made by Peng Chang-kuei, a Hunanese chef who worked in the Sichuan city of Chongqing before moving to Taiwan, where he’s said to have invented General Tso’s chicken while cooking for a US Navy admiral. Peng then moved to NYC, opened a restaurant, put his new dish on the menu, and the rest is history. A rival New York eatery, Shun Lee Palace, also claims one of its chefs came up with the recipe, in 1972.
Shun Lee Palace still exists in New York, in its original location, and it still serves its most famous dish – see shunleerestaurants.com
Aucklanders can head to New Garden Restaurant in Flat Bush (newgarden.co.nz). Those in Christchurch can check out Mama San in Strowan (mama-san.co.nz).
One more thing
You’re probably wondering who General Tso was. The story is that this dish was named after Zuo Zongtang (sometimes transliterated as Tso Tsung-t’ang), a Hunanese military leader from the Qing Dynasty. He died in 1885, so there’s no way he ever tasted the dish that would later carry his name.