I went into this film expecting a fun glimpse into the history of a beloved Chinese-American dish, but I got so much more. This is a surprisingly educational (and entertaining) film that uses a ubiquitous dish (at least in America) to trace Chinese-American history through immigration, government-supported racism, and the emergence of “Chinatowns” and Americanized Chinese food. The history of the actual General Tso is also discussed, and the emergence of General Tso’s Chicken is traced from it’s origins through the many adaptations and modifications that have led to dish we all know (and love).
General Tso's chicken, a stir-fried blend of fried chicken, vegetables, and a sticky sweet and spicy sauce, is a staple of every takeout Chinese food restaurant in the United States, making it one of the most popular and profitable dishes in the country. Of the more than fifty thousand restaurants serving the dish, none of them seem to know for sure if General Tso himself originated the recipe or how it become so prevalent. The Search for General Tso is a brisk and entertaining culinary detective story that uncovers the surprising, enlightening, and appetizing history of Chinese food in America, as well as a tale of immigration, adaptation, and innovation. In addition to interviewing chefs, cultural scholars, the world’s foremost Chinese takeout menu collector, and "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles" author Jennifer 8. Lee, director Ian Cheney also travels the globe to discover the origins of the dish. Starting with China's Hunan Province, home of General Tso namesake Zuo Zongtang, the story then moves to San Francisco, where Chinese cuisine was first embraced by Western taste buds, and then into the Midwest, where takeout culture exploded. Eventually, we meet the bemused and befuddled mastermind behind the dish, who is genuinely surprised by how prevalent his recipe has become.