General Tso's chicken never came from Hunan.

The incomparable Fuschia Dunlop, a British food writer who trained at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu and has written one of my favorite Chinese cookbooks, wrote an article for this Sunday's New York Times Magazine (registration required) on the history of General Tso's chicken.

Many people have raised doubts as to the authenticity of the dish, some of them astutely. But Dunlop found proof. When researching her forthcoming book on Hunanese cuisine, she tried to hunt down the source of America's most famous Hunanese dish. Eventually, she traced it to a Hunan-born Taiwanese chef, Peng Chang-kuei, who invented General Tso's chicken in Taiwan and then brought it to the United States. (Henry Kissinger was apparently one of its first fans.) Now you'll find the sticky, sweet, deep-fried chicken dish, which no Hunanese person would ever recognize, on almost every Chinese restaurant menu in the United States. I love it that she tracked down the aging Peng in Taiwan and interviewed him to back up her claim.

Don't get me wrong, I do love General Tso's chicken from time to time. But I always wondered if it was in the same class of popular culinary-fusion dishes as chicken tikka masala, chop suey, and taco salad, and now I'm sure. At least there was a General Tso.

comments powered by Disqus