Kung Pao chicken has a strong, spicy, sweet, garlicky and nutty flavor. It is a standard dish in American Chinese restaurants and is prepared by simmering chicken in a flavorful sauce made with chili peppers, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, scallions, peanuts and sometimes ginger and Szechuan peppercorns.
The dish originated in the Szechuan region of China. Over time, many variations on the recipe have been developed. The chicken in the dish can be either stir fried or deep fried. Sometimes the sauce includes Szechuan peppercorns, which are known for their mouth-numbing heat and unique fragrant flavor, but this exotic ingredient is often omitted in westernized Chinese restaurants. Westernized recipes sometimes add orange juice to the sauce for a sweet citrus flavor.
Kung Pao chicken is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen, a Qing Dynasty (late 19th century) official of the Szechuan region who was enamoured of the dish. He was the "Kung Pao" (also transliterated as "Gong Bao") or Palace Guardian. Because of the name's association with an imperialist figure, the dish was retitled "fast-fried chicken cubes" (hong bao ji ding) or "chicken cubes with seared chili peppers" (hu la ji ding) during China's Communist Cultural Revolution, but the name "Kung Pao/Gong Bao" came back into use in the 1980s.