Writing the Guide to Greenwich comes with perks - it is necessary to dine out frequently and at times we simply must rate certain foods. Even our office holiday party was a “ working event.” We had to know which restaurant in Greenwich makes the best General Tso’s Chicken. This dish, perhaps the most popular Chinese chef’s special in America- on menus everywhere is on Greenwich menus too. So, who makes the BEST and incidentally, who is General Tso?
Our tasting fun began.
We ordered take-outs from eight restaurants:, , , , , Panda Pavillion,, and . China White has General Tso’s fish on their menu. That’s unique but China White could not be included in our competition. Bambou Asian Restaurant could not be included as they were the exception to the rule — no General Tso on their menu! They recommended I order their sesame chicken saying I would like it as well.
We discovered more customers ordered the dish with white chicken meat rather than dark, so that is what we ordered from our eight local Asian restaurants. The takeouts were removed from their restaurant boxes and labeled with letters of the alphabet. With chopsticks in one hand and pencils in the other to rate our preferences, the party started.
General Tso’s Chicken is not a complicated dish. It is typically lightly battered deep fried chicken in a sweet and sour sauce with chilies. Recipes and ingredients vary. Some have soy sauce. Some have hoisin sauce. If you are looking for an authentic recipe, you will discover our widely popular, often most ordered dish on the menu in Chinese restaurants is perhaps not Chinese at all. If this intrigues you, read Jennifer Lee’s fascinating book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Lee traveled to the famous General’s home town, asked everyone even showing photos of the dish if they recognized it and no one did. Lee and other food historians have concluded this most famous Hunan dish was probably created in America by Taiwanese chefs who opened restaurants in New York City in the 1970s. To suit American tastes, the chefs deep fried the chicken, sweetened the sauce and added broccoli and other not typical Hunan touches.
Now you may be wondering if General Tso is a fictional character. Indeed he isn’t. Tso Tsungtang — a modern spelling is Zuo Zongtang was born in 1812 and died in 1885. Michael Browning wrote an article for the Washington Post titled Who was General Tso and Why are we Eating his Chicken? Browning writes, “He was a frighteningly gifted military leader during the waning of the Qing dynasty ... Tso was utterly ruthless. He smashed the Taiping rebels in four provinces, put down an unrelated revolt called the Nian Rebellion, then marched west and reconquered Chinese Turkestan from the Muslim rebels.”
What a twist of fate. The chefs who are credited with the development of the dish needed a name and they decided to name the dish after a notable person. This fearsome General is known in the USA for chicken - not his part in the Taiping Rebellion, one of the greatest upheavals in 19th century China.
Slowly and carefully we tasted each dish and rated the chicken on a scale of one to four. All doubts of whether we would discover significant differences were quickly dismissed. Each judge had a bunch of written comments — bland, over fried, sweet, too sweet, spicy with a crunch, too soupy, good seasoning, and even a few elicited notes like yuck and eewww.
The top three winners are — Hunan Gourmet, first place; Hunan Café and Panda Pavillion tied for second place.
After eating several pieces of chicken from eight different choices, we were stuffed and there is some question as to whether tasting for our Greenwich Guide is really a perk. We agreed we may have eaten enough General Tso Chicken to last us for a very long time.
Hopefully, for all the rest of you — when you are hungry for General Tso’s Chicken, you will know where to head. Enjoy!
Cost of 1 order
130 East Putnam Ave., Greenwich
374 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich
Tied for 2nd Place
1233 East Putnam Ave., Riverside
68 East Putnam Ave., Greenwich
214 Sound Beach Ave., Old Greenwich
Tied for 2nd Place
420 West Putnam Ave., Greenwich
55 Lewis St., Greenwich
21 Field Point Rd., Greenwich