The Sichuan dish gōngbǎo jīdīng, also known as Kung Pao chicken, is a popular dish in American Chinese restaurants as well as among foreign diners in China. The dish draws inspiration from the legend of a man named Ding Baozhen who lived during the Qing Dynasty.
The story begins with a government official named Ding Baozhen, who held the rank of Gōngbǎo. He fell into the water as a boy but could not swim to shore. Fortunately, he was saved from drowning by a passerby.
When Baozhen grew up, he decided to pay the man a visit and thank him for rescuing him. During this visit, the man served a dish made with chicken, peanuts, and Sichuan peppercorns. Baozhen liked it so much that he recreated the dish and began serving it to others. It became so popular that other people started making it and calling it gōngbǎo jīdīng, after Ding Baozhen.
In China, the dish is traditionally made with peanuts and Sichuan peppercorns, a spice famous for creating a tingly, numbing sensation in the mouth. In America, the dish became known as Kung Pao chicken and varied from the authentic Chinese recipe. Until 2005, the lemony Sichuan peppercorns were illegal to import into the United States over concerns they could spread a bacterial disease to domestic plants. As a result, American chefs adapted the dish to include black pepper instead.
Kung Pao chicken is as popular among foreigners in China as it is in American restaurants because it’s easy to pronounce and served almost everywhere.
The next time you order Kung Pao chicken, remember to thank Ding Baozhen for his delicious contribution to Chinese cuisine. To enjoy authentic Chinese food in Manhattan, visit A Taste of China. You can dine at the restaurant or place a take-out order by calling (646) 478-7322 or ordering online.