With a title like “The Search for General Tso,” one would expect something like a Food Network special. But the documentary actually turns out to be less like that network and more like something found on the History Channel (although the last time I looked at the latter channel, I saw very little that qualified as historical).
By looking at the evolution of Chinese food and how entrepreneurial restauranteurs adapted it to fit the tastes of the host culture, “The Search for General Tso” finds a microcosm of the immigrant experience in America. Changes in cuisine are highly tied to political events from Congressional exclusion acts to Nixon’s visit to the East that “opened” China. Oh, and delectable items like the fortune cookie and General Tso’s chicken? Both 100% American inventions.
Director Ian Chaney’s film is really a tale about cultural appropriation and its omnipresence, which has really undermined the way the world understands the concept of “authenticity.” Searching for General Tso marks not so much an objective for the documentary as it symbolically represents the social construction of ethnic culture. In a slender 71 minute package, it whips up a satisfying meal – although such a short runtime can’t help but leave some lingering desire for an additional course. B /