From haute cuisine to takeout
Date: October 1, 2015
By: Danny Lewis
Take a look at just about any Chinese restaurant in the United States and their menu will
probably have General Tso’s Chicken hanging out somewhere between the lo mein and the beef with broccoli. But while the sweet and saucy chicken nuggets typically come in a greasy takeout box with an egg roll and pork fried rice on the side, the dish was first cooked in a fancy restaurant in Taiwan in the 1950s.
General Tso’s Chicken may be named after a 19th century Hunanese general, but he certainly never ate anything resembling the sticky-sweet meal. The dish as most Americans know it today was invented by Peng Chang-kuei, a chef from the Hunan province. A well-known and talented chef, Peng orchestrated and supervised the grand banquets of the Chinese Nationalist government from the end of World War II until they were toppled by Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949, Fuschia Dunlop wrote for The New York Times Magazine in 2007. Peng fled the country and found refuge in Taiwan alongside the Nationalist leadership.
“Originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty,” Peng told Dunlop in 2004.
During the 1950s, Taiwan became a haven for classical Chinese cuisine. Peng opened a restaurant in the capital of Taipei and for years served food inspired by traditional Hunanese cooking, including the now famous General Tso’s Chicken, as Jennifer 8. Lee shows in her film, “The Search for General Tso.” But the dish as most Americans know it today is nothing like Peng’s original version. [FULL STORY]