9.08.2003

Being (rather lazy) bachelors, we don't cook around here much. Frito (although he makes excellent beer, scones and bread) usually whips up mac and cheese or tortellini when he bothers to cook. I'm a bit more adventurous, with curries and weird rice and/or pasta dishes, but not much moreso. A lot of the time, we wind up and one of the two Chinese restaurants on our street or the Chinese Deli at Safeway.
I'd always wondered about how General Tso's Chicken came about. I imaginged something like this...

Scene: Ancient China, , dusk-some hours after a huge battle. The camera pans across fields of dead bodies. In the distance we see the white tents with flags and banners fluttering in the cold wind.

The camera slowly zooms in, there in the center of the tents we see a handsome middle-aged Chinese man, dressed in elaborate battle armor. This is General Tso. He is quietly discussing post-battle plans when a young lieutenant rides up on horseback.

General Tso: Lieutenant Chou! Report!

Lieutenant Chou (dismounts): Sir! The area has been secured and what remains of the rebel army have been routed!

General Tso: Excellent! We will camp here for two days and move on. Is there anything else?

Lieutenant Chou: Sir, I must add that I have heard rumors of unrest among the troops...

General Tso: Unrest...? What to do you mean?

Lieutenant Chou: Well, sir...the men are...dissatisfied.

General Tso: Dissatisfied? Dissatisfied with what?!

Lieutenant Chou: The food, sir.

General Tso: The food?!

Lieutenant Chou: Yes, sir. Cheng Li has been serving nothing but fish balls and brocoli for weeks. The men are tired and want something that will revive their spirit! Something different!!

General Tso: Hmm...something...different.

Lieutenant Chou: Yes, sir.

General Tso: (Turns away from Chou and muses to himself) Everyone knows an army fights on its stomach...and despite our victory today, there is still much to do! Cook Li has been with me for many years but I am reminded of this tale...

(Voiceover)

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen‑hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee ‑ zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching‑shou music.

"Ah, this is marvelous!" said Lord Wen‑hui. "Imagine skill reaching such heights!"

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, "What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now ‑ now I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

"A good cook changes his knife once a year‑because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month‑because he hacks. I've had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I've cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there's plenty of room; more than enough for the blade to play about it. That's why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

"However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I'm doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until ‑ flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away."

"Excellent!" said Lord Wen‑hui. "I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!"


General Tso (turning back to Lieutenant Chou): Lieutenant! Do we have any oxen?

Lieutenant Chou: Uh...no, sir. But we do have 1,500 chickens!

General Tso: Then we will use chicken! Stand aside Lieutenant-I have some work to do!



Unfortunately, the reality is not nearly as cool. (via Metafilter)

Hm...I'm hungry.





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