Saturday, January 31, 2009

General Tso: Just who is this guy anyway?

Paraphrased from AOL: New York Times reporter Jennifer Lee traveled the world to crack the case of the fortune cookie's cryptic origins, hunt for the infamous General Tso, and track chop suey back to its creator. Turned out, many of the answers were closer to home than she'd ever imagined. The author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food serves up her favorite Chinese food facts, myths and mysteries.

So, Just Who Is General Tso? General Tso's chicken is a dish that is all but unknown in China. If you go to General Tso's hometown in Hunan Province, almost nobody, even those hundreds of his family members still there, know of the dish. So who was General Tso and why are we eating his chicken? General Tso, also known as Zuo Zongtang, was a famous Qing-dynasty military hero who played a large role in quashing the Taiping Rebellion, which was sparked by a Chinese man who thought he was the son of God, and thus the younger brother of Jesus Christ. About 20 million people died in the Taiping Rebellion, which still makes it the largest civil war in world history.

General Tso played a large role in keeping China together. The recipe we now recognize as General Tso's chicken was actually introduced in New York City in the early 1970s by a Chinese chef who had moved here from Taiwan as part of the Hunan cuisine revolution. It became a runaway hit in part because the dish resonated with the American palate: it was chicken, it was fried, it was sweet, and a bit spicy. So while in America, General Tso is like Colonel Sanders and is known for chicken and not war, in China, he's known for war and not chicken.

Missin' my Eggin in Columbia...