General Tso’s Chicken: Is it Really Chinese?

Chee Loh
2 min readMar 28, 2023


Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash

General Tso’s Chicken is a staple dish in many Chinese-American restaurants across the United States. This sweet and spicy deep-fried chicken dish is known for its crispy texture and complex flavor, but its origin and authenticity have been a subject of controversy for many years. Some people claim that General Tso’s Chicken is an authentic Chinese dish, while others argue that it is an American invention with no roots in traditional Chinese cuisine.

General Tso’s Chicken is named after Zuo Zongtang, a Qing Dynasty general who lived in the 19th century. However, there is no evidence that the dish has any connection to the general, and it is highly unlikely that he ever tasted it. The first recipe for General Tso’s Chicken was reportedly created in the 1970s by a Chinese chef named Peng Chang-kuei, who was working in a restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan. Peng had previously served as a chef for the Nationalist government in China, and he based his recipe on a traditional Hunanese dish called “chicken with a strange taste” (chǎofěn zhī jī).

In the 1980s, General Tso’s Chicken became popular in Chinese-American restaurants in the United States. The dish was often served as a sweet and spicy alternative to the more traditional Cantonese dishes like sweet and sour chicken or chop suey. It quickly became a favorite among Americans, who enjoyed the crispy texture and bold flavor of the dish.

The controversy surrounding General Tso’s Chicken is largely due to the fact that it bears little resemblance to any traditional Chinese dishes. Critics argue that the dish has been heavily Americanized, with the addition of ingredients like sugar, vinegar, and cornstarch that are not commonly used in Chinese cooking. They also point out that the dish is typically served with fried rice or noodles, which are not traditional accompaniments to Chinese dishes.

However, defenders of General Tso’s Chicken argue that it is a legitimate Chinese-American dish that reflects the blending of Chinese and American culinary traditions. They point out that many other dishes, such as chop suey and egg rolls, have similar origins and are now considered part of the Chinese-American culinary canon.

The controversy surrounding General Tso’s Chicken is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. While the dish may have some roots in traditional Chinese cuisine, it has clearly been heavily adapted to suit American tastes. Ultimately, whether or not General Tso’s Chicken is really Chinese may depend on how one defines “Chinese” cuisine. But regardless of its origin, there’s no denying that this delicious dish has become a beloved part of the American culinary landscape.