I often tell people that I spent two weeks in China and never saw a single chicken ball! My point, of course, is that what we in North America call Chinese food isn't really Chinese food. But, whatever, it's so darn good! And I admit that I love General Tso's Chicken. If I'm in a Chinese restaurant, I'm having some! And every time I order it, I wonder, "who was General Tso?" And then this documentary popped up on Netflix. I had to watch it. And it's worthwhile, and very enjoyable.
First, there really was a General Tso! Apparently he was from Hunan - I spent some of my two weeks in China in Hunan and never heard him mentioned that I remember, but that's where he was from. A supposedly successful general in the 19th century who never lost a battle and was a fierce defender of Chinese culture, which makes me wonder (and the point is raised in the film) just how happy he would be about this new- fangled chicken dish that bears his name. Although apparently it originated in China - or, Taiwan to be more precise, invented by a chef originally from Hunan and who's none too happy about some of the variations that have appeared to his original recipe in Chinese restaurants around the world. "This is all nonsense" he says when looking at pictures of different versions of the dish. Interesting stuff.
This is about more than just food, though. There are some thoughts about Chinese immigration and how the Chinese diaspora spread throughout the United States, some consideration of the industriousness of the Chinese people and the place of the now ubiquitous "Chinese restaurants" and how they've changed over the years, starting out as places that sold Chop Suey, and now with very diverse menus and some ethnic blends as well. There's thought given to the place of the Chinese community in the US, and although it was mentioned only briefly and not developed, there was some thought about possible racism (I suppose) with the mention that people expect Chinese food to be inexpensive, but they'll fork over big bucks for French food. (Not that there aren't expensive Chinese restaurants.)
All very well done; all very interesting and enjoyable. It's for light viewing. Although, as I noted, there are more serious issues raised, they're not explored in depth. But if you love General Tso's Chicken and you have some interest in where it came from, this will be a worthwhile documentary to watch. (8/10)
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