Monday, February 05, 2007

The story of General Tso's Chicken

When I met Peng Chang-kuei, a tall, dignified man in his 80s, during a visit to Taipei in 2004, he could no longer remember exactly when he first cooked General Tso’s chicken, although he says it was sometime in the 1950s. “Originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty,” he said.

In 1973, Peng went to New York, where he opened his first eponymous restaurant on 44th Street. At that time, Hunanese food was unknown in the United States, and it wasn’t until his cooking attracted the attention of officials at the nearby United Nations, and especially of the American secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, that he began to make his reputation. “Kissinger visited us every time he was in New York,” Peng said, “and we became great friends. It was he who brought Hunanese food to public notice.” In his office in Taipei, Peng still displays a photograph of Kissinger and himself raising wineglasses at the restaurant.



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