General Tso & Yale; Chinese Menus

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Mon Jan 14 18:29:32 UTC 2002


   A wonderful article in FLAVOR & FORTUNE, Spring 2001, page 5+, is "TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR TAKE-OUT MENU: A VIEW OF CHINESE HISTORY," by Harley Spiller.
   His collection now numbers 6,000 menus--mostly Chinese-American.
   Pg. 26, col. 2:

Harley Spiller's collection contains many old CHinese Menus that people have donated from their scrapbooks.  Please feel free to contact him to conduct research, and do consider making donations of menus to this important and unique collection.  Contact this magazine and they'll get you together to do so.

(FLAVOR AND FORTUNE, a magazine of the Institute of the Science and Art of Chjinese Cuisine, P. O. Box 91, Kings Park, NY 11754,


   From GOURMET, October 1982, pg. 129, col. 3:

Q.  Everything at the Peng Teng restaurant in New York City is delectable, but for me the outstanding dish is General Tso's chicken.  WOuld you lbe so kind as to prcure the recipe?
A.  Chef Peng gladly revealed one of the secrets of the Orient.
   _General Tso's Chicken Peng Teng_
   _(Chicken with Red Peppers)_

   From FLAVOR & FORTUNE, December 1996, volume 3, no. 4, pg. 5, col. 1:

   One of the most tasty, sumptuous, and well balanced dishes found on most CHinese restaurant menus is General Tso's CHicken.  If you have never had it, try it at your next opportunity.
   TO make this dish, the chef takes selected cuts of the leg and thigh meat of the chicken, coats it with an egg and flour mixture, then deep fries it in oil to insure that its juices are retained.  This gives the chicken morsels a slightly crispy crunch.  A few sprigs of green broccoli florets are blanched in boiling water for garnish and a brown sweet and sour sauce is poured over the chicken.  THe sauce is made from garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, whole red peppers, and some cornstarch and stock or water mixed in as a thickener.  THis combination of flavors gives General Tso's chicken its unique and tasty appeal.
   Why was this dish named after the general?  Who was this man?  My wife and I knew that his name was Tso Tsung TOng, a famous Hunan general, but nothing else.  So we decided to research this question and find out more about this military man.  We had an inside track.
   I asked my sister who in the 1920's as a young girl had gone with my mother to a local YWCA meeting at the invitation of Madam Tso (No. 3 wife) at the general's home in Changsa, in Hunana, China.  My sister remembered visiting this venerable old lady and having some tea there.  When she was there, the general had long passed away and Madam Tso, many years his junior, was then the "first lady" in town.  Unfortunately, that was all my sister recalled.
   Changsa (the capital of the Hunan province), situated in central CHina, was the general's home base.  My mother, an AMerican born CHinese, was a much sought after guest in this town.  Madam Tso, although old, enjoyed hosting the YWCA meetings at her home.  My father, at that time was dean of Yali, the Yale-in-China School.  Yali, funded by the Yale-in-China Association of New Haven, was situated in that city.  THe fact that Yali could be located there I am sure had the blessings of the Tso family.  So those associated with Yali were the American connection in this mid-Yangtze-River-valley city.
   TO find out more about the general, my wife suggested that I write to our local CHinese magazine, _Sino Monthly New Jersey_, for information on General Tso.  THeir editor kindly wrote bacl weith the following timely information.
   General Tso Tsung Tong (1812-1885) was born in Xiang Yin, thirty-five miles north of Changsa.  He was a very famous General under the Manchu Dynasty and his military activities took him to many parts of CHina.  He was a very active person and loved his food, especially meat.  Everywhere he went, the local magistrates, in order to cultivate his favor, would prepare special feasts in his honor, perhaps to solicit favors and at least so that he would think kindly of them.  He was a hard person to please, but try they did.

(Kicked off the computer!...My trip to China this fall had better be tax-deductible--ed.)

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