(2-1) Gerneral Tso's Chicken, Nuggets, and American History

  •  
  • 504
  • 6
  • 3
  • English 
Feb 28, 2017 12:05
Two years ago, I ordered some Chinese food at a Panda Express while waiting for my plane at LAX. I ordered a dish of Orange Chicken, which tasted, well, okay. I’d heard that Orange Chicken was one of the many versions of General Tso’s Chicken, but when a friend of mine told me that it originated in Hunan, where I'm from, I was surprised. Hunanese food tends to be very spicy, General Tso’s chicken is sour and sweet. Besides, I’d never heard of this dish back in Hunan. I later looked it up on the Internet and found the background history very interesting.

During the California gold rush of the 1850s, Chinese people (primarily Cantonese) began to come to the US in droves through the port of San Francisco. Even today, the city is called “The Old Gold Mountain” in Chinese, unlike most American cities, which are transliterated from their English names.

To Americans, the first Chinese people looked like aliens. They wore long braids and ate with chopsticks rather than forks. There was even a rumor of Chinese people eating rats. Most of the Chinese didn’t intend to settle down in the US. They came to the US for money to send back home. (In traditional Chinese culture, it’s advocated that people go back to where they grew up when they become old.) They were willing to take up hard labor for low wages, like building railroads, and were never interested in blending in or going on strikes. Many Americans (mainly the Irish descendents) saw the Chinese as their competition. Chinatowns were considered evil places. “Let’s get rid of the Chinese!” was one of the slogans back then. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. It was the first law implemented to persecute a specific ethnic group. In my view, this is a stain on US history.

The Chinese were suddenly driven out of labor. They had to be self-employed so they started working in the laundry and food industries. There were few jobs they could find. Soon after, some Chinese restauranteurs discovered that localizing simple dishes could make money. One of them was Chop Suey, a dish of mixed and fried vegetables and meat. It appealed to the American palate and suddenly exploded in popularity. Meanwhile, many Chinese people began to move out of California -- where they suffered outrageous persecution -- to other states, scattering across the nation to try and make a living.
两年前,我在洛杉矶国际机场候机的时候,在“熊猫快线”餐厅买了一份中餐。我点了一份陈皮鸡,味道还凑合。听说陈皮鸡其实是“左宗棠”鸡的一种,但一个朋友跟我说“左宗棠鸡”起源于我的家乡湖南,我还是有点惊讶。湘菜一般都很辣,“左宗棠鸡“却又酸又甜,而且我在湖南的时候,从来都没有听过这道菜。然后我去互联网上找答案,结果发现后面的历史很有趣。

19世纪中叶,大批中国人(主要是广东人),赴美国西部淘金。登陆地点是旧金山。时至今日,“旧金山“在中文里,仍是少数几个中国人自己取名的城市名,其它城市都是直接音译。

当时,在美国人眼里,第一批中国人好似天外来客。他们留着长长的辫子,用筷子吃饭,而不是用叉子。甚至还有谣言说中国人吃老鼠。而且,因为中国传统文化强调落叶归根,很多中国人并没有想过在美国扎根,只是想着去美国赚钱并寄回家。他们吃苦耐劳,愿意拿最少的钱,做最苦最累的活,还参与了美国铁路的建设。但同时,他们无意融入当地社会,对罢工也从来不感兴趣。于是,很多美国人(主要是爱尔兰裔)把中国人视为竞争对手,唐人街从此变成邪恶之地。”当时,就有句口号是:”中国人滚出去!“ 1882年,《排华法案》通过,这是美国历史上第一个针对某个特定族裔的排斥/迫害法案。(我个人认为,这是美国历史的耻辱。)

中国人一下子失去了劳工机会,于是他们只好自给自足,从事洗衣店和餐饮业,这也是当时为数不多的工作机会。不久后,一些中餐馆老板发现,只要将几样简单的菜式改造一下,迎合当地人口味,就能赚钱。其中一道菜是炒杂烩,即用蔬菜和肉类混起来炒。炒杂烩深受美国人喜欢,很快流行开来。同时,很多中国人离开加州(迫害最严重的州),去往美国各地,寻找机会维持生计。