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The Search for General Tso

Posted by martinteller on July 27, 2015

Who doesn’t like Chinese food?  Crazy people.  And I should know… I used to be involved with a crazy person, and she did not like Chinese food.  As for me, I love the stuff.  I’ve had a few somewhat “authentic” Chinese food experiences (ask me about cold spicy chicken feet) but really when I crave Chinese food, I want the cheap Americanized stuff.

This highly enjoyable documentary tries to track down the origins of the now-ubiquitous “General Tso’s Chicken” (also General Tsao, Cho, Gao, or a dozen other variants).  Along the way it explores the General himself, how Chinese food became such an American phenomenon, the struggles of Chinese immigrants in America, cultural attitudes about re-purposed ethnic food in general, among other topics.  One of the most enlightening sections concerns the organizations that help Chinese immigrants get their own restaurants established, doling out territory and giving advice on how to make the dishes — usually a far cry from anything they actually ate in their homeland — that Americans want to buy.  I also loved the discussion of the value of authenticity.

Sometimes the movie skims over certain things in a way that leaves you wishing they’d dug a little deeper.  For instance there is a mention of the anti-Chinese racist sentiments that cropped up in the 50’s, but the movie doesn’t really say anything about the subject except that Nixon’s visit to China kind of turned that around.  But for a 70-minute film, it covers a lot of ground, and does so in a manner that’s often informative and always entertaining.

And mouth-watering.  I think I’m gonna try to make some General Tso’s Chicken myself next week.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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