The Corporal's Chicken

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

There's this thing about food named after people. The colonel's chicken, the clown's burger, the chinese scholar's braised pork, that famous black man's cookies, beggar's chicken... the list goes on. I don't know about you, but shouldn't food sound like you can taste them, like butter chicken, chili crabs, fish and chips, or cheese and mac.

Maybe it's a ruse, almost a perfect one. People, and especially chefs, are human so this is like a fat discount allotted to them. A lot of leeway is allowed when you cook a dish named after someone you perhaps respect, even if the fella is imaginary. "That's what the general stood for and this is how I translate his fervour and integrity in his dish," one chef may argue. Which is why I really don't know if General Tso's chicken was actually created when he was an inexperienced lance corporal in the flotilla's galley, under extreme pressure to cook the last fowl in the gunship before seafood stew dominated the rest of the journey. I've had the pleasure and pressure of eating this chicken dish in many establishments in America. Some felt only like it was a lieutenant's rendition, some a corporal and some, like a stowaway's kitchen experiment... a great excuse why they named this after a person. May the General rest in peace.

Then you have iconic dishes named after places, very toponymsical. Mongolian hotpot, Peking Duck, Singapore noodles (which btw, is non-existent in that tiny island nation), Morton Bay Bugs, Yatala pies, Yorkshire Pudding and of course even, the legendary Buffalo Wings. If you've never eaten them or understood why it has some geographical reference, you would think it's some tourism marketing ploy (and it is, sadly so, in so many instances). Why would they call it a Mongolian when they just dispense some soup into a funnel like hotpot and plonk a platter of meats and seafood with greens beside. To make that long story into fast food propoganda- some Mongolian army chief decreed that the soldiers use their helmets (which looks like the hotpot) to cook the livestock they carried on the journey. They travelled along streams and rivers and had to constantly sharpen their swords (to cut quickly and effectively, not just their meals). It kept the army well fed and swords very sharp. Impressive, but I still cannot figure out what this aspect of history should taste like.

But they jury is out on Peking Duck, which has its roots in Nanjing and other parts of ancient China. And the vegetarians (bless their soul) wouldn't know how to break it to their kids when they realise the cows with wings they draw in school, have actually been turned into a dish with stinky cheese sauce and salad sticks. I wouldn't dare comment on the Singapore Noodles- I understand it's a well respected dish outside her shores. In Singapore though, it's like looking for virgins in Geylang.

It's no sin to name dishes after legends of any sort. But if you can't pitch the taste behind the face or place properly, then I suspect Mushu pork could well be the next kung-fu blockbuster featuring Jack Black and his nemesis, Moogoogaipan.

Devil's Curry anyone?

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