Reporter Jennifer 8. Lee talks about her hunt for the origins of familiar Chinese-American dishes — exploring the hidden spots where these two cultures have (so tastily) combined to form a new cuisine.
NPR.org, February 21, 2007 · When the weather is dreary and cold, there’s nothing better than cooking something that heats up the house and fills it with fragrant aromas — unless it’s someone else doing the cooking.
That’s why the Chinese dish huoguo is perfect for winter entertaining. Even if you’re a neophyte Chinese cook, hot pot will be a cinch. One of its many beauties lies in its simplicity.
Also known as Chinese fondue – or by its literal translation, fire pot — huoguo is a colorful array of meats, seafood, vegetables, bean curd and noodles that each diner chooses from and dips in a communal pot of simmering liquid. It’s a convivial activity, enjoyed by friends and families drawn together by a delicious, healthful meal in which the cooking is spread among many.
General Tso’s (or Zuo’s) chicken is the most famous Hunanese dish in the world. A delectable concoction of lightly battered chicken in a chili-laced sweet-sour sauce, it appears on restaurant menus across the globe, but especially in the Eastern United States, where it seems to have become the epitome of Hunanese cuisine. Despite its international reputation, however, the dish is virtually unknown in the Chinese province of Hunan itself. When I went to live there four years ago, I scoured restaurant menus for it in vain, and no one I met had ever heard of it. And as I deepened my understanding of Hunanese food, I began to realize that General Tso’s chicken was somewhat alien to the local palate because Hunanese people have little interest in dishes that combine sweet and savory tastes. So how on earth did this strange, foreign concoction come to be recognized abroad as the culinary classic of Hunan? (more…)