Is General Tso’s chicken “real” Chinese food?
General Tso’s chicken is a popular dish in Chinese-American cuisine, but it is not a traditional Chinese dish. It was most likely created by Chinese-American chefs and is not commonly found in China. The dish is named after General Tso Tsung-t’ang, a Qing dynasty military leader, but there is no historical record of him having any connection to the dish.
Chinese-American cuisine is a style of cooking that has developed in the United States by Chinese immigrants and their descendants. It often combines elements of traditional Chinese cooking with ingredients and cooking techniques that are more familiar to Western palates. As a result, many dishes found in Chinese-American restaurants are adapted versions of traditional Chinese dishes or are completely unique to Chinese-American cuisine.
When I lived in Chicago I had a friend, first-generation Chinese-American, who would take me to Chinese restaurants in that city where you had to know Chinese to order off the menu because none of the waitstaff spoke enough English to translate for you.
The food was familiar in the sense that it contained ingredients which most American customers of a good Chinese supermarket might recognize, but they weren’t Americanized in the sense that the dishes contained fish heads and other animal parts you’d never find in the kind of fast-food Chinese place with which so many Americans are familiar.
The food was delicious, even when what it contained was a mystery to me much of the time because my friend Hao would say, “You don’t want to know” to many of my questions about ingredients.
I should point out that I’m talking about domestic livestock or fresh fish animal parts, not cat or dog or any of the other meats that bigoted Americans joke about when it comes to Chinese food.
So “real” Chinese food is quite delicious, but it’s not General Tso’s Chicken.
Although I did ask about ChatGPT about that dish because, more often than not, that is what I will order when I get fast-food Chinese takeout.