Sunday, September 18, 2022

Eating up the Hill: The evolution of the caf's General Tso Chicken

You're not going to get high-quality Chinese food from a Parliament Hill Cafeteria -- you'd do better at a nearby mall food court or, better yet, walk down to Sommerset Street and Chinatown. But for a quick lunch that is a nice change, I always try to make it to the caf when General Tso Chicken comes up on the rotation menu of daily specials.

It's been a staple for most of my seven years on the Hill and the basic idea has remained much the same: chicken in a general tso sauce on fried rice with a spring roll and plum sauce. It tends to align with one of my preferred soups, so it's a nice once a month or so treat.

There have been some bumps on the General Tso road over the years. It tends to be a popular dish, so occasionally they've run out of chicken -- usually unbreaded chunks of processed-looking white meat. On these occasions they will sometime sub in a couple of breaded chicken strips and sauce them which is curious, as chicken strips aren't on the menu at all -- if so, they'd be in my rotation. I asked once, and apparently they only keep them on hand for chicken emergencies.

Sometimes they run out all together.

One time I was down early but they had pulled the special -- apparently they felt the sauce was too hot this day for the Hill population to handle. I have never even gotten a hint of heat from their General Tso sauce, but my sensitivity has been dulled by years of Scarborough Hakka and South Asian cuisine.

A few months ago, I ordered the special when it was up and it was inedible. The sauce was just gross and the chicken very low quality.

Still, I believe in second chances, so when it came up in the rotation again I took the plunge, assured they had made changes. And indeed, they had. The first and most noticeable was that they were now using breaded chicken nuggets. Rather than being in the sauce as before, they were kept separate from the sauce and were sauced on the plate. The veggie rice was also now just regular rice, although the number of red peppers in the sauce seemed increased. All through the years, the spring roll has remained an unchanging constant.

Breaded nuggets are an interesting choice. I'm not sure what the General would say. I mean, it's higher quality than the most recent chicken iteration, but it's far from traditional. I miss the veggies in the rice; hell, even tossing in some of that pee/carrot/bean frozen veg mix would be welcome.

Glad to see them trying to innovate the menu, though. Maybe rotate this out for something in a peanut sauce or a curry though? Better is always possible, my friends.

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