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  • Chinese Food in American Culture
  • In the West, the most famous of all General Tso preparations is General Tso’s chicken.
  • Sometimes listed on Chinese-American menus as General Zuo, General Tse (more on those later) or even as General Tao, it is one of the best known wok recipes to make it to these shores.
  • How much the iconic dish we’ve come to know and love actually resembles the dish it stems from in China is hotly debated though.
  • In fact, there are even documentaries dedicated to getting to the bottom of the origins of this dish and examining how it fits into the Chinese-American food lexicon.
  • Most people agree that breaded chicken bits tossed in a sweet, tart, savory and sometimes spicy glaze probably isn’t all that authentic when it comes to actual Chinese food. While the authenticity of this easy-to-make Chinese-American sauce may be in question, I’d actually argue that, through the years, it’s permutations have become a new kind of normal.
  • I’m a firm believer that once a dish becomes known, loved and revered by a large part of any population, all bets are off.
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  • The History of General Tso
  • Is there a general tso?
  • The short and quick answer is that there was a 19th Century, Qing Dynasty military leader named Zuo Zongtang from Hunan Province.
  • His name is commonly romanized as Tso Tsung-t’ang.
  • However, curiously, the dish we’ve come to know as General Tso chicken in the West has no concrete relation to a corresponding dish served in either Hunan Province or Zuo’s hometown for that matter.
  • That’s right – more than probably, the roots of the dish stem from a Chinese chef, Peng Chang-kuei, who is said to have created an original dish using typical Hunanese flavors.
  • Food historians say Peng probably introduced General Tso chicken (a dish he had been making for decades already) to the Chinese-American food scene in the early 1970s in New York – which had the Hunanese flavor profile of “heavy, sour, hot and salty.”
  • From there, it took legs and made its way across the country, adjusting flavor here and there to appeal to the people that were eating it.
  • So to recap… General Tso: real person. General Tso’s chicken: probably not an homage to his favorite dish 🙂
  • Well, I’ve given you a super condensed and overly-simplified version here. If you’re interested in reading more about this epic food journey, this article by Fuchsia Dunlop should sate your intrigue in a much more in-depth and historically accurate way.
  • Food history is so cool!

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