General Tso’s chicken is a dish that is all but unknown in China. If you go to General Tso’s hometown in Hunan Province, almost nobody, even those hundreds of his family members still there, know of the dish.
So who was General Tso and why are we eating his chicken? General Tso, also known as Zuo Zongtang, was a famous Qing-dynasty military hero who played a large role in quashing the Taiping Rebellion, which was sparked by a Chinese man who thought he was the son of God, and thus the younger brother of Jesus Christ. About 20 million people died in the Taiping Rebellion, which still makes it the largest civil war in world history.

General Tso played a large role in keeping China together.

The recipe we now recognize as General Tso’s chicken was actually introduced in New York City in the early 1970s by a Chinese chef who had moved here from Taiwan as part of the Hunan cuisine revolution. It became a runaway hit in part because the dish resonated with the American palate: it was chicken, it was fried, it was sweet, and a bit spicy.

So while in America, General Tso is like Colonel Sanders and is known for chicken and not war, in China, he’s known for war and not chicken.
Beef with broccoli is not a traditional Chinese dish. Neither is chicken and broccoli, because broccoli is not a vegetable that is traditionally used in China. The Chinese have a vegetable called Chinese broccoli, similar to kale. But American Broccoli originally hails from Italy. It only became popular in America in the 1920’s largely due to the successful marketing of the D’Arrigo Brothers Company, becoming a staple of the American diet by the 1930s. It continued to increase in popularity after World War II with the return of service men who had served in Europe. Meanwhile it was all but unknown in China. Today, with the forces of globalization, Chinese cooking in China and Taiwan has also discovered broccoli, though it is considered somewhat more of an exotic, rather than staple, vegetable. Guaranteeed: General Tso never saw a stalk of broccoli in his life.

Posted on March 25, 2008 at 12:05 am by Rabbi Jeffrey Rappoport · Permalink
In: General Topics, Uncategorized

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