The Se­cret Jewish His­tory of Gen­eral Tso’s Chicken.

Forward Magazine - - Discontents -

There are two hid­den truths about China’s Gen­eral Tso, whose ill-ad­vised mil­i­tary in­cur­sion into Ja­pan put the miso in misog­yny and the saké into “for heaven’s sake.

The first is that he had a speech im­ped­i­ment. The sec­ond is that he was a cow­ard. This lat­ter char­ac­ter flaw was re­sented by the rank and file, who would re­gale him with cries of, “Gen­eral Tso’s chicken.”

In re­sponse, the gen­eral or­dered his cooks to pre­pare a dish that would be both cheap and pop­u­lar.

Af­ter 23 ex­per­i­ments, the cooks set­tled on a hon­eyed, fried con­coc­tion with diced fowl. When they set up camp and sol­diers be­gan to shout abuse at the lead­ers, the re­sponse from the mess tent was to bring out, #24, Gen­eral Tso’s chicken.

The gen­eral him­self was born Abra­ham Tsorowitz to a Jewish trad­ing fam­ily in Vladi­vos­tok. The com­mu­nal shame at the Jewish roots of China’s cow­ardly gen­eral, is re­flected in the Yid­dish word “tsores.”

The fam­ily name comes from the town of Hořovice, though fam­ily lore would rather it came from “Tsarowitz” through il­le­git­i­mate de­scen­dants of a li­ai­son be­tween the Tsar and a beau­ti­ful Jewish cour­te­san. Pho­tos of the gen­eral who was, like his name­sake dish, sweet but bland, sug­gest how­ever, that he counted no beau­ti­ful cour­te­sans among his an­ces­tors.

Af­ter mil­i­tary dis­grace, Tso lived his life in ex­ile in the Kuril Is­lands, named for Tso’s Greek un­cle, Cyril Arkipela­gos. The rest of the fam­ily scat­tered and suf­fered trag­i­cally. Three cousins were killed in the Holo­caust, three were killed in the Is­raeli war of in­de­pen­dence and, per­haps worst of all, three cousins ended up on Long Is­land.

Tso’s mil­i­tary ca­reer ended abruptly. In re­sponse to the Amer­i­can tele­gram in­quir­ing as to his suc­cess, the Chi­nese re­sponded in English with a tele­gram con­tain­ing the world’s least in­ter­est­ing palin­drome.

“Tso lost.”


A FOWL CON­COC­TION: A plat­ter of the name­sake’s chicken.

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