The Search for General Tso 尋找左宗棠

Third floor viewing room. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel like watching a movie inside a fridge, the air-conditioner was set just right 😌.

True to my word, I finally went to watch a movie at the Kaohsiung Film Archive (KFA) 高雄市電影館, and even signed-up for a KFA membership, woohoo, exciting, isn’t it? The process involved going to the second floor of the building, interrupting the posse of volunteer obasans in the middle of their gossip session, filling-out a form (need the ARC card), paying nothing, and walking away with yet another membership card, pre-loaded with three points.

Slowly becoming a real Kaohsiung人.

Points can be accumulated by buying souvenirs from the KFA shop and by redeeming your movie ticket at the sales counter after the showing. Every 5 points, you get a free movie, but can only buy a ticket for it on the day of the showing. The cards also allows members to freely watch DVDs from the KFA collection, inside the premises, at some dedicated viewing stations.

Now, about this General Tso 左宗棠…

The mastermind behind The Search for General Tso is none other than Jennifer 8. Lee, which you may recall from The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, and is directed by Ian Cheney who also co-produced King Corn (a fun watch!). The documentary actually draws a lot from the book and almost felt like a movie adaptation of it, but gave it a fresh spin by delving into another icon of Chinese-American food, General Tso’s chicken.

To trace back the source of the dish, and understand its rise to popularity, the documentary travelled back to General Tso’s hometown in Hunan 湖南, followed the trace of the General’s personal chefs to Taiwan, and roamed all corners of America to meet early-Chinese-immigrant restaurant owners serving a spectrum of americanized Chinese food and their own localized version of General Tso’s chicken. Through this epitome of Chinese-American food, we also learn about the social and historical development of Chinese food in the US.

To really connect with the movie, I’d recommend reading the book first, it is full of fun trivia and intriguing anecdotes, many of which are featured in very short scenes in the documentary, so registering all those morsels of information can prove a bit intense.

I’m definitely still fascinated by how those early-Chinese immigrants managed to build their own underground network which gave way to the spread of Chinese-American restaurants in the US, and concurrently helped them blend into the American culture, if not contribute their own mark to it.

Ever wondered about those cheap bus shuttles departing from Chinatown in New-York? Well, they actually got started to help financially modest immigrants follow opportunities  facilitated by an underground job placement agency outside of the Big Apple. Thrifty backpackers later got wind of it, and those shuttles are now patronized by the general public as well. Knowing how it originated — and being now familiar with the driving style in Asia definitely makes those Yelp reviews all the more fun to read 😂.

I am sorry to report that the new-and-improved 2014 Chinatown bus ride no longer packages complimentary roaches, human-sized holes in the floor, or near-death experiences in your $25 journey.

That being said, Lucky Star still offers a bit of that Chinatown Bus je ne sais quoi.  It’s a safe bet that your bus won’t have WiFi or outlets (and believe it or not, humans lived this way for years), and your driver will maneuver your bus like a lawless race car.  You can still look forward to stopping at the world-famous Misaki Sushi and Seafood Buffet at a small-town strip mall halfway between Boston & New York, and you’ll be smelling it for the entire second half of the trip. (Yelp/Meredith R.)

Overall, I found the movie well executed, well researched, and loved the perky soundtrack. It also featured interviews with famous Chinese food talking heads like Fuchsia Dunlop, Cecilia Chang aka the Julia Child of Chinese food, or lesser known characters like this Chinese restaurants menu collector (hehe, I’m not the only nutso doing it ^^).

The movie does mention a restaurant in Taipei serving General Tso’s Chicken, 澎園 (Peng Yuan), which boasts a few banquet-style restaurants throughout the capital. To cater to the general and younger crowd they’ve also opened 湘8老 (Xiang Ba Lao) to enjoy 澎園’s cuisine in a more casual atmosphere. (On a Chinese geeky note, the (ㄒㄧㄤ) in 湘8老 is the Chinese province abbreviation for  Hunan 湖南, and it’s not uncommon to use 湘菜 as a referrence for Hunan food.)

As for who is the original creator of the dish, I will let you watch and find out for yourself. 🙂

Lastly, if you’re feeling ambitious enough, and want to try your hand at making General Tso’s chicken at home, check the movie’s website for a recipe.

Happy reading, watching, cooking, and eating! 🐓🐔


3 thoughts on “The Search for General Tso 尋找左宗棠

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