Gongbao Jiding (Kung Pao Chicken 宫保鸡丁)
What is it?
A staple offering in Chinatown restaurants around the world, gongbao jiding (known internationally as kung pao chicken) is made with stir-fried chicken breast (cut into cubes), crunchy peanuts and dried chili peppers. Then it is cooked in sweet bean paste, soy sauce and sugar. These days, kung pao shrimps and kung pao beef are also very popular.
Why is it famous?
Ding Baozhen, a native of Guizhou Province, was a government official in the Qing Dynasty. After he was promoted to the rank of Gongbao (a prestigious title) Ding visited the family of a man in Sichuan who had saved his life when he was young. While he was there Ding was served a dish featuring diced chicken, peanuts and Sichuan peppercorns. He enjoyed it so much that he began eating it on a regular basis and serving it to his guests. It came to be known as gongbao jiding in honour of the official (jiding loses a bit of glamour in translation, meaning ‘chicken bits’).
The kung pao spelling derives from the nineteenth century Wade-Giles system for romanising Mandarin (Gongbao is the modern pinyin equivalent, although most eateries in the US and UK have stuck with kung pao as their customers are familiar with it).
During a state visit to China back in 2014, German Chancellor Angela Merkel watched a local chef prepare it in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Then she tucked in. “We thought she would just have a mouthful but she finished about two-thirds of it,” the restaurant owner announced proudly. “She asked us to bring more chopsticks so that other members of her entourage could also taste it.”
Where to eat it?
Sample it in Chengdu if you want an authentic experience like Merkel’s. Chen Mapo is a very popular restaurant in the city. The address is 197 West Yulong Street (near Bank of Communications) in Qingyang District, Chengdu. Tel: 86-28-8675-4512.
In Beijing, Meizhou Dongpo is a Sichuan restaurant that is known for its kung pao chicken. Address: 9 You Yong Chang North Road (near Jiacheng Mall) in Fengtai District, Beijing. Tel: 86-10-5739-3266.
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