General Tso’s chicken (by 1973) is an American dish that is found in Chinese restaurants all over the US – yet is little known in China, even in General Tso’s hometown where they have General Tso’s Liquor.
General Tso’s chicken is made up of pieces of boneless chicken that are deep fried and covered in a sweet sauce. It is often served with broccoli and rice. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are almost certainly based on it.
Most Americans see it as “Chinese” – even though broccoli comes from Italy and deep-fried chicken is unmistakably American. It was created and mostly cooked by Chinese Americans, but, as Restructure! points out:
“Some White Americans use “Chinese food” as an example of Chinese people being unassimilable and not adapting to American culture. (Some White Americans even believe that the popularity of “Chinese food” in the United States shows how Americans accommodate and embrace minority cultures.) The reality is that “Chinese” American food is an example of how Chinese immigrants bend over backwards to create dishes customized for White American tastes.“
White Americans think they are experiencing “another culture” when in fact they are only experiencing their own. It is not unlike disco music, which appeared about the same time.
It gets worse: Chinese restaurants and Chinese laundries are common in the US because White men considered cooking and doing laundry women’s work. That made them fields that Chinese men could enter without seeming to be a threat to White men.
Chop suey is also an American invention but, like General Tso’s chicken – and Asian Americans themselves – it is seen as perpetually “foreign”.
General Tso’s chicken is loosely based on a dish of the same name in Taiwan. It was created by Peng Chang-kuei in the 1950s. He fled to Taiwan from Hunan province in 1949 when Mao took over mainland China. Peng named the dish in honour of General Tso, an admired figure in his home province.
Peng’s “real” General Tso’s chicken is not sweet, not fried, has skin and bones and uses more soy sauce.
It was brought to the US and Americanized by T. T. Wang. It first appeared in the US in 1973 in Midtown Manhattan at his Shun Lee Palace restaurant at 155 E. 55th Street in New York. Most of his customers were not Chinese but Jewish Americans (in part because he was open on Christmas).
By 1983 General Tso’s chicken had spread across the US, coast-to-coast. Chicken McNuggets appeared that same year, Americanizing the idea yet further.
General Tso was a real person, but he never ate General Tso’s chicken: he died in 1885. We do not even know if he liked chicken.
General Tso is the Western name for Zuǒ Zōngtáng (左宗棠). He was one of the generals who put down the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), the bloodiest civil war of all time. Millions upon millions died. Millions more fled China. Some came to the US and opened restaurants – General Tso’s true contribution to American cuisine.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Welcome to Asian American History Month 2015
- Perpetual Foreigner stereotype
- Mock Spanish
- Taiwanese Americans