Food myths in ”The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”
While researching her fascinating and comprehensive book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Chinese-American New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee discovered that Chinese food in the U.S. has become so Americanized, some fortune cookies quote Yoda over Confucius. Here are three dishes that may seem Chinese but are actually as American as apple pie.
General tso’s chicken
The dish— named for a Hunanese general who quelled the deadly Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century — was reportedly created in the 1950s by a Taiwanese named Chef Peng. New York-based chefs, however, developed its trademark sweet and crispy flavor.
According to Lee, they were actually invented by the Japanese. But during WWII, Chinese Americans marketed the cookies Stateside while Japanese-American confectioners were stuck in internment camps.
There are competing theories about its origin. Lee found a 1904 newspaper article indicating that a Chinese man in San Francisco named Len Sem claimed rights to the name and wanted to file an injunction against several copycats. But Lee also found references to an 1896 banquet where an unnamed Chinese chef improvised a dish made from random ingredients (chop suey means “odds and ends”) for a Chinese diplomat visiting the U.S.