Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

KUNG Pao Chicken, cubed chicken stir-fried with dry red pepper and crisp peanuts, is a very popular dish in China. It can be found everywhere from small streetside eateries to high-grade restaurants all over the country.

There are different stories about the origins of the dish. Some say it is from Shandong; others say Sichuan or Guizhou. The different versions all share the same protagonist Ding Baozhen (1820-1886), a senior official of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Ding served as head of Shandong Province and later as governor of Sichuan. For his outstanding feats in battles against foreign invaders in the southwest border area, Ding was given the honorary title of “crown prince’s tutor,” which is called Gongbao (kung pao) for short in Chinese.

The story goes that Ding routinely strolled around the city he was stationed in as a regional official, to learn about its customs and commercial activities, at the same time seeking out local delicacies. On one such jaunt in Shandong, he saw an old woman feeding chickens in her yard and engaged her in conversation about local conditions and people.

Suddenly he was aware of a delicious aroma wafting out of the kitchen. Ding couldn’t help but ask: “What smells so good?” The hospitable woman brought out a dish for Ding to try. Ding loved it and pressed her for the recipe. She explained that she first cut raw chicken into cubes then coated them with starch paste; after, she stir-fried the chicken with peanuts, peppers and soy sauce.” Deeply impressed, Ding hired the old woman as his personal chef.

One day Ding held a banquet during which the dish was served. All the guests praised it and one asked for its name. Ding was caught off guard because he had not thought about it. Ding’s foster son Wang Oufeng suggested that since his adoptive father had the title of Kung Pao, that Kung Pao Chicken might work. Every guest applauded Wang’s idea. Thanks to Ding Baozhen’s reputation it was soon popular throughout the country.

Where to eat:

1. Emei Restaurant

Kung Pao Chicken is the Emei Restaurant’s source of fame. During the 1960s and 1970s, the chefs of Emei Restaurant would be invited to the Beijing Hotel to cook the dish whenever there was a banquet for VIPs. Several state leaders are enamored of it, calling it “the king of dishes.” Emei’s version was also a favorite of Mei Lanfang, the Peking Opera master. Now, the restaurant offers a special steamed bun with Kung Pao Chicken stuffing, which is definitely worth trying.

Address: No. 58 Beilishi Road, Xicheng District, Beijing

Tel: 010 - 88374437

2. Sichuan Restaurant

Established in 1959, Sichuan Restaurant is a high-end restaurant offering Sichuan cuisine. Premier Zhou Enlai gave the restaurant its name and Guo Moruo, the renowned writer, wrote the calligraphy for the restaurant’s signboard. For the decades since it was founded, the restaurant has provided delicious food and professional service to many state leaders and distinguished guests from China and overseas. Deng Xiaoping, a native of Sichuan Province, once praised it: “The home-style dishes are so good here!” Kung Pao Chicken is one of the signature dishes at the restaurant.

Address: No. 3 Xinjiekou North Street, Xicheng District, Beijing (on the first floor of Xingjiefang Shopping Center)

Tel: 010 - 83225559