Friday, April 19, 2002

ETHNIC FOOD REPORT: Jim Henley links to this story which locates the origins of General Tso's chicken: 1970s Manhattan. It goes like this:

But to others, General Tso's chicken recipe may be no more ancient than 1972, and may have more in common with Manhattan than with mainland China. On "The Definitive General Tso's Chicken Page" ( New Yorker Eric Hochman theorizes "It was invented in the mid-1970s, in NYC, by one Chef Peng.

"Around 1974, Hunan and Szechuan food were introduced to the city, and General Tso's Chicken was an exemplar of the new style. Peng's, on East 44th Street, was the first restaurant in NYC to serve it, and since the dish (and cuisine) were new, Chef Peng was able to make it a House Specialty, in spite of its commonplace ingredients."

My own research led me to the same city, but a different Manhattan restaurateur, who claims the dish is the brilliant invention of his former partner, a gifted Chinese immigrant chef named T.T. Wang.

"He went into business with me in 1972," said Michael Tong, owner of New York's Shun Lee Palaces, East (155 E. 55th St.) and West (43 W. 65th St.). "We opened the first Hunanese restaurant in the whole country, and the four dishes we offered you will see on the menu of practically every Hunanese restaurant in America today. They all copied from us.

"First, Lake Tung Ting shrimp. Lake Tung Ting in northern Hunan province is very famous for its shrimp.

"Second, crispy sea bass. We roll them in cornstarch and we fry them crispy. Then we shower them with the sauce. A lot of restaurants will use catfish, but they don't know how to cook them in the sauce, so they put the sauce on the side. Sometimes they just give you plain soy sauce. We know how to cook them in the sauce.

"Third, orange crispy beef. This is very, very popular with us. Any Hunan or Sichuan restaurant, if you call them and ask for orange crispy beef, they will know what you are talking about. We invented it.

"Fourth, General Tso's chicken, sometimes called General Tsung's chicken or General Tsao's chicken."

Has anybody else heard that Chinese food of the sort found in Chinese takeout places is, like pizza, an American invention? This sort of adds some substance to that argument. Anybody got a link?

No comments: