Sunday, May 24, 2009

Missouri Chinese: Two Cultures Claim This Chicken

March 10, 2009
New York Times
Springfield, Mo

Read the full article here.

David Leong who was born in China, first cooked cashew chicken about 50 years ago in Springfield, Mo.

STANDING in the parking lot of Mr. Yen’s, a 560-seat palace of Chinese cooking owned by a family friend, David Leong scanned the red clay pagoda roof and rose-colored walls and staked a claim that few here in the Ozarks would dispute.

“All this came from my cashew chicken,” said Mr. Leong, the 88-year-old patriarch of the Chinese food industry here. “All these restaurants. This wealth. From my family.”

Cashew chicken, in the form first cooked by Mr. Leong nearly a half-century ago, is not the stir-fry served by many Chinese-American restaurants. Around Springfield, cashew chicken — deep-fried chicken chunks in a brown slurry of soy sauce, oyster sauce and stock, scattered with green onions and halved cashews — is the culinary common denominator. It’s a weeknight dinner, bought from a drive-through. It’s a weekday plate lunch, accompanied by fried rice and an egg roll.

More than 70 Chinese restaurants in this city of 157,000 serve cashew chicken, from Lucy’s Chinese Food, a three-location chain owned by brothers John and Tom Gregoroski, to the Canton Inn, a converted Dunkin’ Donuts where Chiwa and Foon Wong keep a pot of chicken stock simmering on the stove and the cashew chicken special costs $3.75.

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