Tuesday, August 04, 2009

So, Who IS This Guy, Anyway? .....

Okay, yesterday's venture was so successful, I've decided to try another question ... who's this General Tso guy, and what's with the chicken?

It all started over the weekend, as Younger Son and I were having lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. He was enjoying a plate of General Tso's Chicken when he asked me, "Who is General Tso?"

Good question, really .... who IS this guy, and how did his name come to be associated with one of the more popular dishes served in Chinese restaurants across North America? Using the ubiquitous 'Wikipedia entries' as out jumping-off point, and moving on from there, we learned the following ...

General Tso, or Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), was a Chinese general and statesman of the Qing dynasty. A failure as a civil servant, he instead found his calling on the battlefield, fighting and subduing rebel armies across the Chinese nation, including "the most important (and the world's largest) civil war, the 14 year long Taiping Rebellion, in which it is estimated 20 million people died." He was equally successful in negotiating with some of China's restive neighbors, such as the Russians ... and overseeing the creation of his country's first modern shipyard and naval academy.

So, how did his name become attached to the chicken ... sort of a Hunan Beef Wellington, perhaps?

That's a lot of good discussion over that, how the man and the dish are - and are not - attached to one another. This includes the suggestion that the dish is a late 20th-century creation from a Chinese Nationalist who emigrated from China to Taiwan, then to New York City (HERE is some good research along those lines by Barry Popik). One discussion suggests that chef, himself being a victim of the Chinese Communist rebellion, named the dish in honor of the man who successfully stamped-out so many rebellions in the past.

There's also a good discussion on whether the dish is - or is not - authentic Hunan cuisine, or a dish created or adapted for non-Hunan tastes in the west.

There's also a discussion that the dish did not get its name from Zuo Zongtang, the general, but from the word zongtang, meaning "ancestral meeting hall."

A LOT of discussion, and Younger Son and I can pursue this further ... over lunch? And what shall it be? ... General Tso or Colonel Sanders?

Photo by Brian Sack of The Banterist