Kung Pao Chicken
August 30, 2012 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Ding Baozhen (1820-1886) was a governor of Sichuan province during the Qing dynasty. The emperor bestowed upon him the title Gōng Bǎo - "palatial guardian". He supervised the reconstruction of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System. But he achieved immortality through the dish named for him: Kung Pao Chicken.

Fuchsia Dunlop, whose recipe was chosen to accompany the NPR story, has a nifty blog. (previously)
posted by Egg Shen (18 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, this sounds delightful. I like the homogenous USian version of Kung Pao chicken well enough - but I lust to try the true, authentic inspirations from their source.

Funny - a friend of mine, an American who has manufacturing concerns in China just told me yesterday to join him on a trip there. I'd have to cough up airfare, but everything else would be on him and his company. I will regret it forever if I don't take advantage of it soon, I am sure.

He did warn me though - I will get sick. Hey man, I grew up on the border of Mexico, I have been inoculated with some gnarly pathogens already. And I bet those spicy red chilis and Sichuan peppercorns will take care of any undesirable bacteria. I'm game.
posted by Xoebe at 4:43 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grand Sichuan in Jersey City makes a mean Kung Pao chicken. Really spicy and wonderfully lip numbing. (And Dan Dan noodles... they are kind of uneven on the noodles, but when they do them correctly they come out amazing.)
posted by lyra4 at 4:59 PM on August 30, 2012

Fantastically framed post. My mind jumped through three story lines in as many sentences, before reaching a pleasant (ly tasty) resolution.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:38 PM on August 30, 2012

Mmmmm sichuan peppercorns. I accidentally ordered dan-dan noodles once and got really confused when my water started tasting funny. They're like acid for you tongue.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:39 PM on August 30, 2012

I had this in a Sichuan restaurant in Beijing once, and it was like nothing else I've ever eaten. Incredibly delicious. The Kung Pao chicken I've had in Australia is a completely different food (and usually terrible). I've found a few restaurants here that use Sichuan pepper but none of them do it really well.

I also love ancient engineering projects like the Dujiangyan irrigation system, although qanats are still my favourite.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:02 PM on August 30, 2012

He did warn me though - I will get sick.

You know - that's a funny thing. I was born in HK as was my sister but we grew up in Canada. Both times my sister went back she got terribly ill from food. Myself? No problem, and we mostly ate similar things and I had a lot of street food.

There's a superstition that if you eat a bunch of fresh local hand-made tofu very early during your visit, it'll decrease your odds of getting sick.

The Science! part of me can't come up with a reasonable hypothesis for why this would be unless the microflora contributing to GI distress is ubiquitous in the water supply, the process of making tofu kills the microflora while preserving a generous amount of epitopes that our immune system can recognize, and there's something in the tofu making process/ingredients that acts as an oral "anti-adjuvant" (instead of telling your adaptive immune system that an epitope is "bad," its a signal that might attenuate antigen-presenting-cells that have been exposed to- and are presenting- these epitopes from upregulating co-stimulatory molecule presentation).

Does anyone know if tolerance to general parasites from one region of the world generally translates to increased/decreased tolerance to general parasites from different parts of the world? You hear about "snake eater-types" and whatnot; people who get used to the jungle in say South America who end up being right at home in the jungles of SE Asia?
posted by porpoise at 7:04 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just spent a month in NE China and ate at street markets (chicken on a stick) and didn't get sick and ate out at conventional restaurants most nights.
posted by mecran01 at 7:11 PM on August 30, 2012


I never made the connection between "Kung Pao" and "Gai Ding." I grew up eating chopped up chicken and vegetables (with pan roasted cashews) in a dry spicey-hot seasoning (with Sichuan peppercorns) both at home and at restaurants; it was always called "Gai Ding" (chicken a la Ding).

I'm beginning to suspect that the Ding part of the name is from Ding Baozhen. Gonna have to ask my mom if this is the case. Or maybe it's to differentiate between a (hotter?) Northern version of the dish versus a (less hot?) Southern version of the dish...?
posted by porpoise at 7:13 PM on August 30, 2012

Kung Pao chicken is OK, but to my mind you can't beat Chongqing chicken. You just eat around the chilis if you don't like spicy food.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:21 PM on August 30, 2012

porpoise, "Gai Ding" is probably 干丁,a descriptive term for dry little cubes...
posted by of strange foe at 8:47 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ahhh, right - thanks! I feel like a foreign bumpkin a lot.
posted by porpoise at 9:00 PM on August 30, 2012

Joe in Australia, the chicken is good, but it's unbelievable with fish.

Also, I have no idea why so many places in the US insist on serving that dish without bones. It is mediocre at best without bones, and I don't know why.
posted by Serf at 9:17 PM on August 30, 2012

porpoise, "Gai Ding" is probably 干丁,a descriptive term for dry little cubes...

Actually, 干 would be "Gan" in both Mandarin and Cantonese. Porpoise, assuming your family is Cantonese then "Gai Ding" is probably 雞丁, or diced chicken.
posted by C^3 at 9:26 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm drooling on the keyboard just reading the recipe.

Tomorrow we head to the big city, and I believe a stop at our favorite hole-in-the-wall for Kung Pao is in order.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:59 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, one of the few things I remember from my pathetic attempt to learn Chinese in Wuhan was my teacher telling me about cooking terms (after all, teach what the student is interested in). Her explanation of the dish was (i think) gong bao ji lin, which roughly translated to smashed shredded chicken, the gong bao part being the chicken being broken down into parts, and having something to do with the sound of the cleaver whacking apart the chicken. As you can see, I was a lousy student.

Now the guy I played basketball with, who had been in the PLA, he taught me how to swear. Of course, that's pretty much all I remember.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:38 PM on August 30, 2012

No love for that amiable charlatan General Tso, I guess?
posted by cromagnon at 8:11 AM on August 31, 2012

Dunlop's kung pao chicken is my go-to chinese recipe. (I just made it Monday). I imagine it's not traditional, but adding waterchestnuts and green onions at the end gives it an awesome crunch. Thanks for the post!
posted by robstercraw at 8:27 AM on August 31, 2012

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