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General Tso's Chicken Isn't Something You'll Find In China

plate of General Tso's chicken
plate of General Tso's chicken - Danny4stockphoto/Getty Images

There's a lot of common dishes you'll find in American Chinese restaurants -- things like egg drop soup, kung pao chicken, moo shu pork, beef with broccoli, and all manner of noodle dishes. But there might not be a single more iconic Chinese dish to Americans than General Tso's chicken, battered and fried chunks of poultry tossed in a sweet, tangy sauce and typically served alongside broccoli.

But that's the thing: it's a dish you'll find in American Chinese restaurants but not at all in restaurants in China. To understand why, you have to understand where the dish came from in the first place, and how its creation isn't just apart from modern China, it's actually antithetical to modern China. See, General Tso's chicken -- named after a historical general who definitely never ate any of it -- wasn't actually created in America. It was first invented in Taiwan by a chef who'd been part of the Nationalist government of China -- the group that was deposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1948.

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General Tso's Was Created As A Direct Result Of The Rise Of The CCP

General Tso's over rice
General Tso's over rice - from my point of view/Shutterstock

First, a real quick lesson on 20th century Chinese history. In 1912, the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty abdicated the throne, bringing an end to the millennia-old Chinese Imperial system of government. This gave way to the Republic of China (ROC), a fractious Nationalist government which didn't really have control over large parts of the country and which was eventually given the boot from the Chinese mainland in 1948 by the CCP. The ROC, however, fled to Taiwan. They're still there today; Taiwan is actually still formally known as the Republic of China.

How does this relate to General Tso's chicken? Because the chef who first created it, Peng Chang-kuei, created it as a direct result of that 1948 exile. Peng, a top caterer for the Nationalist government, fled the Chinese mainland along with them, and continued his duties in Taiwan. It was there in 1955 during a visit by Admiral Arthur W. Radford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that Peng supposedly created General Tso's for the first time (although notably, Peng himself did not remember when he'd first made it). Peng named it after Zuo Zongtang, a 19th century general who was a legend in Peng's home province of Hunan.

General Tso's Is Popular In America And Taiwan, But Not China

General Tso's with broccoli
General Tso's with broccoli - Danny4stockphoto/Getty Images

Whoever Peng first made it for, the dish was so popular that it's no wonder it eventually spread from there. It became popular in Taiwan first, but when Peng opened a restaurant in New York City in 1973, it hit American shores. It's been a staple on American Chinese menus ever since. It's also still popular in Taiwan, where a chain named after Peng, Peng's Gourmet and Banquet, still operates today.

But you're not going to find the dish in China, for some pretty obvious reasons. The CCP isn't exactly going to be fond of a dish not only created by a former Nationalist chef, but named after a 19th century military figure from a governmental age in China of which they were not, historically, big fans. Also, you can't even get broccoli in China anyway; chefs instead use a leafy green vegetable called gai lan. So if you want to enjoy General Tso's, don't look for it on your next trip to Shanghai.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.