General Tso, who was the man and how did the dish come about?
Zuo Zongtang, known in the west as General Tso, has no relation whatsoever with the meal that we order today at the Chinese restaurant. That credit seems to start with Chef C.K. Peng of Agora Garden in Taipei, who invented the dish in the 1950’s after he was exiled by Mao Zedong. He called it Zuo Zongtang’s chicken and translated it as ‘Chicken a la Viceroy’.
In the 1970s, Chef Peng migrated to the United States and opened a restaurant in New York. He modified the recipe to suit the non-Hunanese palate by adding sugar. Even still, the dish is dissimilar to what we recognize as General Tso’s chicken (and where does the name change come into play?).
A possible explanation is that chef Peng’s recipes were adapted by two chefs, David Keh and T.T.Wang, who’d trained in his Taipei restaurant. It’s said that chef T.T. Wang introduced what we now recognize as general Tso’s chicken, by the name of general Ching’s. Somewhere in the 1980s, general Tso’s chicken and general Ching’s chicken merged into what you find at your local Chinese restaurant.
For a version similar to chef Peng’s General Tso, try Fuchsia Dunlop’s General Tso’s Chicken.
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- Zuo Zongtang (britannica.com)
- Zuo Zongtang Led Forces to Put Down Rebels in Xinjiang (chinese.cn)
- Who Was General Tso? (mentalfloss.com)
- What is the origin of General Tso’s chicken? (quora.com)
- Taiping Rebellion (britannica.com)