General Tso to go

When I was in high school, my mother and I used to go to The Chinese Kitchen on the odd Friday or Saturday evening.  I'd order spicy Mongolian Beef and she'd order a number of blander items such as Sweet and Sour Pork with its neon orange sauce and chow mein.  It was a tasty and inexpensive weekend treat, and we often headed there when I came home on weekends in college. Post-college, I was introduced to the mysteries of Dim Sum by a Chinese-Swedish boyfriend and finally learned how to use chopsticks!

In the intervening years, I've become more fond of Thai and Vietnamese, and eschewed the seemingly less healthful and tasty Chinese fare, but occasionally I get a hankering for Sesame Beef, General Tso's Chicken, or Egg Foo Yong. I never thought much about the authenticity or origins of these menu items until I picked up Jennifer 8. Lee's entertaining and engrossing book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food.  Chop suey, I already had questions about, but imagine my shock when I learned that the crispy sweet tang of General Tso's chicken really belonged to another general!  And fortune cookies might possibly have come from Japan!  Really?

Lee began her quest for the origins of America's favorite "Chinese" dishes when she heard the story of the multiple Powerball winners who had all chosen the same number because of a series of digits in a fortune cookie. From there, she went on a multi-state, multi-national quest to find out what about Chinese-American food is truly Chinese, and why Americans have developed such an abiding taste for the cuisine.

Along the way, she uncovers fascinating factoids such as there are more Chinese restaurants than McDonalds in the U.S. (in my neighborhood, it's 2-1 in favor of Chinese) and delves deeply into questions such as what is the connection between the Jewish and Chinese communities and what was the kosher duck scandal in the 1980s really about? If you're not craving Pot Stickers and Broccoli Beef by the end of the book, I'll be surprised!