Celebrating Chinese New Year

January 13th, 2009

Chalk up another victory for General Tso’s chicken. According to official government sources, the close ties between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China were forged 30 years ago by President Carter and Chinese Communist leaders in an historic restoration of diplomatic relations, following breakthrough secret negotiations set in motion in 1971 by President Nixon. But the real back story is cleverly hidden, like the fortune-telling message in a Chinese cookie, in a Wikipedia entry.

“General Tso’s chicken is a sweet and spicy deep-fried chicken dish that is popularly served in American and Canadian Chinese restaurants where it is considered Hunan cuisine. The origins of the dish are unclear. The dish was previously largely unknown in China and other lands home to the Chinese diaspora Thus, General Tso’s Chicken is most likely an American invention in the history of American-Chinese food,” says the anonymously posted article.

“The association with General Tso, or Zuo Zongtang, Qing dynasty general and statesman, is unclear. One theory is that the dish was a classic specialty from Hunan province, invented by Zuo’s wife and served for him and his officers upon every military victory, although this theory is generally considered to be apocryphal. Hunan cuisine is traditionally very spicy and rarely sweet. Instead, the dish is believed to have been introduced to New York City in the early 1970s as an example of Hunan and Szechuan-style cooking. The dish was first mentioned in The New York Times in 1977.”

So there you have it. Reading between the lines, it’s clear—in a Mark Twain tall tale kind of way–that the devilishly devious Nixon ordered a White House cook to concoct a sweet and spicy dish that could be palmed off on the Eastern Liberal Establishment as an authentically Chinese delicacy. While the New York Liberal Media Elite was aswoon over discovering a new dish in Chinatown, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger slipped unnoticed off to Beijing and made arrangements for Nixon’s stunning political reversal as an implacable foe of Communism by traveling to China in February 1972 to eat a real Chinese dinner with Mao Tse-tung himself.

Kissinger was back in Beijing again this week, smiling like the Cheshire Cat at China’s president, Hu Jintao, in a photo-op with a beaming Jimmy Carter. As usual, Carter, the straight-laced Baptist Sunday school teacher who served a lonely term as president in a White House where secret deals and fooling the public were forbidden, didn’t get the insider joke. But he duly noted that, thanks to Nixon and himself and a lot of other people, things have changed a lot since the days when American and Chinese soldiers fought each other bitterly over icy hills in Korea.

“There’s been tremendous changes made in China, and I would expect that same trend toward more openness, more freedom, more participation in government by the people will continue,” Carter told The Associated Press. Meanwhile, millions of Americans back home were ordering Chinese takeout dinners, pausing to savor the thought of chomping into a lip-smacking bite of General Tso’s chicken.

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2 Responses to “Celebrating Chinese New Year”

  1. Kevin |

    LOL – excellent post, Jan. General Tso’s Chicken is easily my single most favorite “Chinese” delicacy. In fact, I just had some not two hours ago.

    Not only did I have no idea that this dish is not authentic, but about a year ago I had the Chinese-American owner of a local Chinese restaurant insist to me that his mother’s (she is the chief chef) unbreaded Chicken version of General Tso’s – which to this day is the sole unbreaded example I’ve ever seen or heard of – is the “authentic” way of preparing it.

    About Jimmy Carter the Baptist Sunday School teacher… I’ve got a copy of his book called “Sources of Strength.” Which is a collection of his favorite Sunday School lessons that he’s taught over the years. It provides an interesting insight into the man, IMO, because he so obviously bases his ideology and many of his choices upon the bedrock of his theological convictions.

  2. Tom |

    I love Chinese food. I’ve had it in many places in the U.S., in various European countries, in Russia, in Africa, in Central America, and in Asia.

    One of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve found was in Luanda, Angola. In fact, it was one of about five restaurants you could go to in Luanda without running the risk of dying of food poisoning. Naturally, the American Embassy staff became regular customers.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never heard of General Tso’s Chicken. At least, not that I can remember. Maybe it was on the menus, but I don’t recall it. Now I’ll have to try it for sure, and I’ll remember this article when I do.

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