A fi­nal salute to the chef who brought the world Gen­eral Tso’s chicken

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS -

30 in Taipei at age 97 or 98, de­pend­ing on which ac­count you read. His fu­neral will be held on Dec 15 in Taipei.

Born in Chang­sha, cap­i­tal of Hunan prov­ince, Peng ran away at age 13 and ap­pren­ticed un­der noted Hu­nanese chef Cao Jing- shen. Af­ter the Ja­panese in­va­sion in the 1930s, Peng moved to Chongqing, and dur­ing the Chi­nese Civil War, fled with the Na­tion­al­ist govern­ment to Tai­wan in 1949.

Leg­end (on Chi­nese-restau­rant pa­per place mats) has it that the chef for the ac­tual Gen­eral Tso — Zuo Zong­tang, who had helped put down a se­ries of re­bel­lions dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty in the 19th cen­tury — called out sick one day, so the gen­eral him­self had to cook some­thing up for a din­ner party. He whipped up his chicken dish, and the guests raved about it.

But the real story is that Peng con­cocted the dish in 1955, for a visit by a US ad­mi­ral dur­ing the Tai­wan Straits cri­sis.

In Amer­ica, Gen­eral Tso’s chicken is al­most al­ways deep fried and smoth­ered in a hot, sticky-sweet sauce, with dried chili pep­pers and broc­coli flow­ers and served over rice. As Peng first pre­pared it, though, it was nei­ther crispy nor sug­ary.

In the early 1970s, a time when Chi­nese cui­sine was flour­ish­ing on the New York din­ing scene, the Hu­nam (spelled with an “m”) restau­rant and its ex­ec­u­tive chef Tsung Ts­ing Wang claimed the dish as their own, but they called it Gen­eral Ching’s.

Wang had trav­eled to Tai­wan in 1971 for in­spi­ra­tion as he was pre­par­ing to open his Man­hat­tan restau­rant. In Taipei, he came across Peng’s restau­rant and Gen­eral Tso’s chicken.

When Peng opened his own New York restau­rant in 1973, he was fu­ri­ous to dis­cover a sweeter, crispier ver­sion of his dish was be­ing served, not only at Wang’s place but at another New York restau­rant run by David Keh.

The his­tory of the dish was fea­tured in a 2014 doc­u­men­tary, TheSearch­forGen­eral Tso, directed by Ian Cheney.

“We tasted the orig­i­nal Gen­eral Tso’s chicken in Taipei, and it was de­li­cious; it was just dif­fer­ent,” Cheney told China Daily in 2015. “It was a lit­tle more tart; it had more of a gin­ger-and-gar­lic pro­file, much less bread­ing than you’d find on Gen­eral Tso’s chicken in the states.”

“This is all crazy non­sense,” Peng says in Cheney’s film, as he looks at how Gen­eral Tso’s is made in the US.

“The march of Gen­eral Tso’s chicken has been long and wide,” Jen­nifer 8. Lee, au­thor of TheFor­tuneCookie Chron­i­cles, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“It’s the most pop­u­lar of Chi­nese dishes in Amer­ica, be­cause it is sweet, fried and chicken — all things Amer­i­cans love. It is eas­ily a bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try.”

The el­der Peng even­tu­ally re­turned to Tai­wan in the 1980s and opened a chain of res­tau­rants, where he worked nearly up to his death.

“My fa­ther thought other peo­ple’s cook­ing was no good,” his son, Chuck­Peng, told AP. “The way he cooked was dif­fer­ent; it was much bet­ter. Gen­eral Tso’s chicken is so fa­mous be­cause of Henry Kissinger, be­cause he was among the first to eat it, and he liked it, so oth­ers fol­lowed.”

“If we patented Gen­eral Tso’s chicken,” he told Time. com, “we’d be ex­tremely rich.”

Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

COUR­TESY OF LUCASFILMS

RogueOne poster.

JOSHUA SWIGART EVAN

Gen­eral Tso’s chicken, as typ­i­cally served in the US

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