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September 8, 2003 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Who Was General Tso And Why Are We Eating His Chicken? Unlike Chicken Marengo, a dish created to celebrate Napoleon's victory, or Beef Wellington, named, it seems for the Duke's boots, General Tso's Chicken has a humbler origin as a traditional Hunan dish revived in a New York Chinese restaurant in the 1970s, when Szechuan was the latest craze. But this article will teach you a bit about the General Sherman of Ch'ing-period China.
posted by briank (23 comments total)

 
Tso should have kept his chicken to himself (rather than inflicting it on the rest of us). I wouldn't even feed that to an inmate in Guantanamo.
posted by troutfishing at 7:41 AM on September 8, 2003


This dish is also called General Gao's chicken at a lot of places, and I'm pretty sure that's the original name of it.
The story I heard was that it was just some common chicken dish that a Chinese chef made once. And there was no real name for it.
When someone asked him, "What do you call this?", he didn't have a reply. It was just "gao". Which is (according to my source) Chinese for "chicken." So, as kind of a joke, he decided to call it 'General Gao's Chicken'. And the name stuck, even though General Gao is just "General Chicken".

Somewhere along the line, someone thought it would be even funnier to name the dish after a ruthless bastard of a historical general...
posted by jozxyqk at 7:50 AM on September 8, 2003


General Tso vs. Colonel Sanders: 1, 2.
(Do generals outrank colonels?)
posted by brownpau at 8:04 AM on September 8, 2003


There is a restaurant in Richmond, VA where I used live called China Panda and it serves a mock variety (i.e. not meat) of General Tso's chicken and it's the best fucking stuff ever.

That's all.
posted by xmutex at 8:27 AM on September 8, 2003


There is a restaurant in Richmond, VA where I used live called China Panda


Was it finger-ling-ling good?
posted by gwong at 8:55 AM on September 8, 2003


Tso should have kept his chicken to himself (rather than inflicting it on the rest of us). I wouldn't even feed that to an inmate in Guantanamo.

Blasphemy! General Tso's (or Gao's or Tsao's or whatever you want to call it) is one of my favorite artery-clogging dishes. I couldn't have gotten this fat without it.
posted by jdroth at 9:38 AM on September 8, 2003


"most commonly pronounced 'sow'".
cute.
posted by Wood at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2003


not exactly sure what chicken is in mandarin, but in cantonese it's gai (so I imagine mandarin would be gi or ji or something like that...?)

</ruin fond general chicken memories>
posted by dorian at 10:45 AM on September 8, 2003


I always though General Tso was actually Colonel Sanders' Chinese name, and that he had invented his eponymous chicken when he traveled to the Far East during his little-known "lost years" before he turned 30 and re-entered the historical record. I still wouldn't count the possibility out. Many mysteries surround the Wise and Inscrutable Colonel.
posted by rusty at 10:54 AM on September 8, 2003


General Tso's (or Gao's or Tsao's or whatever you want to call it) is one of my favorite artery-clogging dishes. I couldn't have gotten this fat without it.

Hear, hear! I love the stuff, and in my experience the quality of any restaurant's General Tso's chicken is usually an accurate reflection of that restaurant's entire menu. If the Tso is unnacceptable, I will not return!
posted by Ty Webb at 11:04 AM on September 8, 2003


I personally don't mind the general chicken now and then, but...I don't exactly consider it to be chinese food.

one year in boston a group went out for new year's meal. lunar, that is.

me: man, I can't wait to see what special new year dishes they made!
friend from hk: you know it dude!
white friend 1: I want sesame chicken!
white friend 2: I want general tso's chicken!
white friend 3: I want orange chicken!
waiter (in cantonese): idiots, it's all the same thing!
friend 3: don't order any of those choi things!
friend 2: and no fish either!
me + hk guy: this is going to be the worst meal ever...
posted by dorian at 11:16 AM on September 8, 2003


Interesting that both the East & the West have high ranking military (Gen vs Col) in charge of their most prominent chicken dishes. As a statistical curiosity, I wonder if the U.S. spends more annually on the Colonel's chicken (alone, not counting biscuits, gravy, etc) then they do on orders of the General's dish (inclusive of all the spellings, but not the variations described by dorian above). I bet the General would win. An invasion, in our own backyard!
posted by jonson at 11:32 AM on September 8, 2003


Anybody from Northern California ever seen it listed as anything but "General Chicken"? Odd regionalism I wasn't aware of. I always figured it was like "Sizzling Happy Family", best left enjoyed and not interpreted...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:22 PM on September 8, 2003


Anybody from Northern California ever seen it listed as anything but "General Chicken"?

This is sort of related:

Here in Oregon, I'd never heard it referred to as "General Chicken" until the new Safeway muscled its way into our small town. The new Safeway has a deli featuring Chinese food, including "General Chicken". (Also including the sometimes fantastic Sesame Beef. Yum.)

Of course the quality of this grocery store deli Chinese food is uneven, to say the least. Sometimes I get home and take a bite and just throw the shit away. Other times I bite in and think I've died and gone to heaven. Ah, the taste-treat that is Americanized ethnic cuisine. Delightful!
posted by jdroth at 12:56 PM on September 8, 2003


not exactly sure what chicken is in mandarin, but in cantonese it's gai (so I imagine mandarin would be gi or ji or something like that...?)

That's correct on the Mandarin part.

I personally don't mind the general chicken now and then, but...I don't exactly consider it to be chinese food.

I've always been chastised by a certain Chinese friend of mine whenever I order things like beef in oyster sauce, mongolian beef, or anything similar which you'd also find at a Chinese take-out place; he claims those dishes are "white people food". Oddly enough, he has no criticisms toward my rather egregious In-n-Out habit.

I always figured it was like "Sizzling Happy Family", best left enjoyed and not interpreted...

I had a Korean friend point that out on the menu and asked me about it before. I was going to mumble something about the overzealous literalism in the translation, but instead pepped up with, "Well, you know how some Koreans eat dogs?..."
posted by DaShiv at 1:09 PM on September 8, 2003


most commonly pronounced 'sow'

Is that stupid or what? Why didn't they say "most commonly pronounced 'so'"? Why don't people take one second to read over what they've written and say (in this case) "oops, that word I've given as a pronunciation guide can be pronounced two ways!"
*stalks off muttering*
posted by languagehat at 3:06 PM on September 8, 2003


Can I have some of that chicken in a sandwich?
posted by wendell at 3:32 PM on September 8, 2003


General Tso's would probably be pretty good on pumpernickel.

Comparing this guy with Sherman's all well and good, but remember that Stonewall Jackson pulled off even more daring military exploits in the face of superior numbers and with fewer logistical goodies -- his troops referred themselves as "Stonewall's foot cavalry."
posted by alumshubby at 4:15 PM on September 8, 2003


I've always been chastised by a certain Chinese friend of mine whenever I orderthings like beef in oyster sauce, mongolian beef, or anything similar which you'dalso find at a Chinese take-out place; he claims those dishes are "white peoplefood". Oddly enough, he has no criticisms toward my rather egregious In-n-Outhabit.


Hey I'm Chinese and I love eating well-prepared Americanized Chinese food. Unfortunately, most Chinese restaurants do these dishes very poorly, covering them in overly-sweet-and-sour sauce or a generic tasteless brown sauce, or in too-thick of a breading.
posted by gyc at 4:27 PM on September 8, 2003


I've seen it as "General Shu's" chicken as well.

And I pretty much love the stuff when it's done well (not too horribly sweet and sticky, plenty spicy, decent quality chicken, hasn't sat under a heat lamp for 4 hours). Probably doesn't fit anywhere near my supposedly low-carb diet though.
posted by Foosnark at 5:10 PM on September 8, 2003


I was never a big fan of the dish, to be honest, because it usually is really terrible, but there's a Chinese take-out near us now that makes it well -- very hot, not very sweet, plenty of ginger.

A co-worker and I were speculating that Chinese restaurant supply companies probably just sell a "General Tso" sauce mix along with the frozen eggrolls, crab rangoons, and other pre-made "Chinese" products. Anybody know about that?
posted by briank at 5:58 PM on September 8, 2003


restaurant supply companies

dnno about the sauce, but I absolutely love those awful, awful 70s/80s pictures of the food on the menus and the ubiquitous overhead lightboxes -- I swear there can only be two (or three at most) unique versions of those photos, sold by supply companies to restaurants worldwide (I've seen those same cursed photos in venezuela, and I've seen them in italy...)

my favorite undeniably-american-people-food that most of the take-aways 'round hoboken/jc serve is "half a chicken plus mighty big mound o' fries" -- I've absolutely no idea how it got started, but for $3 (well $4 nowadays, bleh) it's hard to resist (and generally pretty tasty, too).

there was (is?) this place in half moon bay called china kitchen that served the poorest excuses for spicy chicken and lemon chicken that you ever could imagine. ghod how I miss that place.

and damn you shiv, for exacerbating my in-n-out temptation...dear lhord, why did we ever move away from sf? clement, irving, 19th, taraval...all that good food and some other bastards are eating it at this very moment. I need to learn voodoo.
posted by dorian at 6:28 PM on September 8, 2003


Worst Chinese food I ever ate was in Athens. My then wife had a sudden craving, and no amount of argument ("There are no Chinese people in Athens! What do you suppose the stuff they call Chinese food can possibly be like?") would dissuade her. We walked for miles and wound up at one of those awful red-pillared places that shriek "Do not eat here! This is not a real Chinese restaurant!" We went in. The rest I leave to your imagination.

The best I've had was in Taiwan (where the great chefs who didn't make it to Hong Kong wound up after the Communist takeover). I couldn't eat Chinese food for a year after I'd come back to the States, until I'd lost the sense memory of what the real thing tasted like. Ah, that ma po dou fu at the Little Omei, the surface covered with little red flecks that you knew would have tears rolling down your cheeks mere seconds after you popped the first impossibly tender cube of bean curd into your eager mouth... If I'd been able to afford the fancy Omei Restaurant in downtown Taipei, I might never have returned. Real Szechwan food bears little resemblance to the stuff you're served here; for one thing, I don't think the proper spices are available. (Szechwan restaurants are often called Omei after a famous mountain in the province.)

General Tso? I hear he made a pretty decent fried rice in the breaks between battles.
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on September 9, 2003


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