Most Chinese take out menus you’ll find in the United States will have a particular spicy, sticky, fried chicken dish named after famous military leader General Tso. It’s a popular mainstay at family style and food court eateries alike, but if you’re thinking it has deep roots in Chinese culinary history, think again. The dish only dates back to 1952 when Chef Peng Chang-kuei, a native of Changsha in China’s Hunan province who had fled to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War, created it for an American admiral after he’d exhausted most of his usual menu during the four-day visit.
The attribution of Peng’s famous dish to General Tso only came after the admiral asked what the dish was called. Likely inspired by the military man sitting in front of him, the chef answered “General Tso’s chicken,” thus forever naming the dish after a hero from his native Hunan.
Peng later opened a restaurant in New York City in 1973 which became a hotspot for ambassadors and employees of the nearby United Nations headquarters, including Henry Kissinger, according to Taiwan News. After an unsuccessful attempt to start a chain of restaurants in the U.S., Peng returned to Taiwan where he made that dream a reality with a chain of Hunan-style eateries that are still operating today. However, his dish spread across the country and world and the myth and mystery of General Tso’s chicken and its creator was even the subject of a 2014 documentary.
Chef Peng passed away from pneumonia on November 30, 2016 at the age of 98.
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