Just about everyone who has been to a Chinese restaurant in North America has heard of General Tso’s chicken. But few people know the inventor of the sweet-and-sour deep-fried Hunan dish is Peng Chang-kuei (彭長貴), who opened Peng Yuan in Taipei in 1980 after running a successful restaurant business frequented by celebrities like Henry Kissinger in New York City during the 1970s.
According to the restaurant’s Web site, Peng was a favorite pupil of famed early 20th-century Chinese chef Cao Jing-chen (曹藎臣). After fleeing with Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) forces to Taiwan, Peng took up the role as the chef for national banquets. It was during this period when the legendary culinary artist started inventing recipes by modifying traditional Hunan dishes, including that of General Tso’s chicken.
It is said that many of the Hunan dishes served at restaurants in Taiwan are adaptations of Peng’s recipes.
Now a restaurant empire with seven locations in Taiwan that is run by Peng’s eldest son, Peng Yuan is where gourmands go to revisit the master’s oeuvre. This reviewer visited the flagship store on Linsen North Road, which has a second floor that can be used for wedding banquets and a third floor that is partitioned into rooms which seat around six tables of diners.
Renamed chicken a la viceroy (左宗棠雞, NT$280), Peng’s General Tso’s chicken is by no means the sweet variation usually found at Chinese restaurants in the US. Seasoned with chili and soy sauce, the dish doesn’t go overboard in spicing up the boneless chicken drumstick meat, which is tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.
Peng is also credited with inventing what has now become another culinary classic — fu kuei shuang fang (富貴雙方, NT$90 per tiny slice). Think of the dish as a Chinese sandwich filled with roasted bean curd slices (烤素方) and Chinese honey-glazed ham. The ham has just the right amount of fat to give the dish a juicy taste without seeming greasy, while the roasted bean curd is crunchy. Each bite is an explosion of tastes and textures.
Address: 2F and 3F, 380 Linsen N Rd, Taipei City
Telephone: (02) 2551-9157
Open: Daily from 11:30am to 2pm; 5pm to 9:30pm
Average meal: NT$600
Details: Menu in Chinese, English and Japanese
Unlike fu kuei shuang fang, which was concocted for national banquets, Peng’s bean curd (彭家豆腐, NT$240) is a meal that the master created for his own lunch. Stewed with fermented soybeans, garlic and pork, the simple dish eloquently exemplifies the typical Hunan taste that is salty and spicy.
Other Hunan specialties include minced shrimp with lettuce (生菜蝦鬆, NT$480), shredded lamb tripe with yellow leeks (韭黃羊肚絲, NT$360) and the steamed assorted preserved meats (蒸腊味合, NT$480), a generous plate of preserved pork, fish and duck.
— HO YI