General Tso’s chicken is a staple of the North American Chinese restaurant. This delectable dish is thought to have been created by a New York City Chinese restaurant on the East side. With its sweet, deep fried taste, General Tso’s chicken has risen through the ranks of the take-out menu.
There are two claims on the creation of General Tso’s chicken. Both come from Chinese immigrant chefs from two different American-style Chinese restaurants in NYC. The first offerings of General Tso’s chicken popped up at both restaurants at around the same time.
A man named Michael Tong, the owner of Shun Lee Palace claims that his former chef, T.T. Wang, a Chinese immigrant, created the recipe for General Tso’s chicken in 1972. He is quoted as also saying, “We opened the first Hunanese restaurant in the whole country, and the four dishes we offered you will see on the menu of practically every Hunanese restaurant in America today. They all copied from us.” He is currently still the owner of the Shun Lee restaurants in New York City, which are often recognized for their excellent combination of Americanized and traditional offerings of Chinese cuisine.
Likewise, Peng Chang-Kuei is a Chinese immigrant chef and the former owner of Peng’s Restaurant on the East side. He loved experimenting and inventing new dishes. One such dish is General Tso’s chicken. He claims he invented it in 1973 to much fanfare. The dish was an instant success in the area and was quickly adopted by many nearby Hunanese chefs. A 1977 review of his creation states: “General Tso’s chicken was a stir-fried masterpiece, sizzling hot both in flavor and temperature.” Unfortunately, the original Peng’s Restaurant on East 44th Street has closed. Another restaurant with the same name has opened nearby, but seems to have no relation to the original. In December 2016, Peng passed away at the age of 98 due to pneumonia.
We now know the possible creators, but who is the General Tso that this meal is named after? It’s a mystery, but the man most commonly associated with the chicken is Zuo Zongtang. Zuo was a Qing dynasty statesman from the Hunan province. Zuo would have never eaten the chicken as it is today, and the dish is not found anywhere in his hometown, Changsha. Therefore, the name has often been speculated as being only a coincidence. Different variations of the original General Tso’s chicken have been created with names such as: General Tsao’s, General Tong’s, General Cho’s, and even General Joe’s!
No one knows who originally made it or why they named it so, but we all know the great taste of the All-American Chinese classic: General Tso’s chicken!
Shun Lee Palace-155 E 55th St., New York, NY 10022-http://www.shunleerestaurants.com/
General Tso’s Chicken Recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/04/the-best-general-tsos-chicken-food-lab-chinese-recipe.html