(2-2) Gerneral Tso's Chicken, Nuggets, and American History

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Mar 1, 2017 02:05
The first part of this entry: http://lang-8.com/94674/journals/254677663048309302112097408748444617676

During WW II, China became an ally of the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act was abrogated. The Chinese gradually gained acceptance in American society. As the Chinese diaspora grew ever bigger, Chinese food became ubiquitous and Chop Suey became a national phenomenon. However, it didn’t last long. After Chairman Mao took over mainland China, the US was concerned about the rise of Communism. OIn the media, images of everything about China suddenly became negative, including Chinese food. Fewer and fewer Americans went to Chinese restaurants. Chinese food, including Chop Suey, was in the doldrums.

Things changed as President Nixon visited the PRC in 1972. The President of the US was hosted at a state banquet by Premier Zhou Enlai. Americans saw their president on TV eating authentic Chinese food. Many of them wanted to have a try. The fine Chinese restaurants suddenly saw long lines extending outside their doors. It ushered in a golden age of Chinese cuisine in the US. Many Chinese restaurants of different styles, such as Sichuan and Hunan restaurants, found a niche in big cities. Among many dishes, one especially stood out – General Tso’s chicken, which was first served in the US by Chef. Wang in “Hunan” restaurant, NYC.

But Chef. Wang wasn't the inventor. He actually brought back this dish from a Hunan-style restaurant called “Peng Yuan” in Taiwan. The owner of the restaurant, Chef. Peng, grew up in Changsha, Hunan, and fled to Taiwan after the KMT’s fiasco in the civil war. He had long been one of the greatest chefs since before moving to Taiwan and later cooked for the Taiwanese government. One day, he wanted to cook a new Hunanese dish for Chiang Kai-shek (the KMT’s leader at the time). A light bulb came on. He chopped chicken drumsticks into chunks, put them in a batter, fried them up with peppers and garlic, and poured sauce over the food on the plate. (In Hunan, we have a similar dish, but it’s made with pork.) He missed his home province, Hunan, so much that he called the dish “General Tso’s Chicken,” named after a famous ancient Hunanese general.

Several years later, upon being introduced to the US, the dish became a sensation. Of course, sugar was added to General Tso’s Chicken served in NYC, because Chef. Wang knew the American palate to be sweeter. Since then, Chinese restaurants in the US have copied the recipe from each other, and the dish has become sweeter and sweeter. Even Chicken McNuggets were inspired by this dish. This style of cooking has even spread into Mexican food. This type of deep-fried, gravy-sauced comfort food has now become a national dish for Americans and is a business of billions of dollars.

Getting back to my experience at LAX, when I ate Orange Chicken -- a version of General Tso’s chicken -- I had no idea it originated in my home town, Hunan. While exploring its background, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how it all traces back to the history of Chinese immigrants in the US.
二战时,中国成为美国的盟友,《排华法案》被废除。华人逐渐被美国社会所接受。在向全国各地移民的过程中,中餐变得无处不见,炒杂烩成为了全国现象。可惜,好景不长,Mao 攻得大陆后,美国担心Communism的势力,于是乎媒体上关于中国的一切印象都变得负面起来,包括中餐。去中餐馆就餐的美国人越来越少,门可罗雀。包括炒杂烩在内的中餐逐渐被人们所遗忘。

1972,美国总统尼克松破冰访华,局面得以改变。周总理招待了尼克松一场国宴。在电视上,美国人看到了总统在品尝地道的中餐,都想跃跃欲试。于是,一些中高档的中餐馆门前开始排起了长队。这一事件开启了中餐在美国的黄金时期。不同菜系的中餐馆,如湘菜馆、川菜馆在美国大城市中如雨后春笋般冒出。在众多菜式中,有一道最受欢迎:“左宗棠鸡。” Chef Wang在纽约的Hunan餐厅向美国大众第一次呈现出这道菜。

这道菜的首创者并不是Chef Wang,他实际上是从台湾彭园湘菜馆学到并带回美国的。彭园餐馆的老板彭长贵生长于湖南长沙,内战失败后,跟着国民党一起逃到了台湾。去台湾以前,他就是一个很有名气的厨师了,到台湾后,就成了KMT政府的御厨。有一天,他想给Chiang Kai-shek做一道新湘菜,突然灵机一动,将鸡腿切成大块,在调好的面糊里搅拌,加入辣椒和蒜一起爆炒,最后淋上一道酱汁。(湘菜里面,其实也有类似的做法,但食材主要是猪肉。)他十分想念故乡湖南,所以湖南近代一位著名的常胜将军“左宗棠”给这道新菜命名,以寄乡愁。

若干年后,这道菜被介绍到了美国,轰动一时。当然,纽约餐馆里的左宗棠鸡加了糖,因为Chef Wang 知道美国人喜甜食。从那以后,中餐馆互相借鉴这道菜的做法,不过越来越甜。麦当劳的麦乐鸡甚至都是偷师于此。这种做法还渗入到了墨西哥菜系中。如今,这款油炸、淋有酱汁的慰藉食物变成了美国人尽皆知的一道菜,成为了一门数亿美元的生意。

回到文章的开头,当我在洛杉矶国际机场点了一份“陈皮鸡”(“左宗棠”鸡)的时候,却浑然不知这道菜就起源于湖南。在寻找原因时,我不禁惊叹背后故事居然可以追溯到整个美国华裔移民史。