What’s In A Name

Country of OriginChina

It’s not everyday you come across a politically incorrect dish. But why was it so, you may ask.

It’s an easy enough to question to answer. Provided we had a spare TARDIS to use. To the non-geeks reading this, it means we’d have to go back in time to find out why!

Let’s take a short trip to 18th century Sichuan, China, still under the rule of the Qing Dynasty. It is here, amongst the pillars of the Royal Palace, where the dish found its home.

The dish is believed to have been named after one of the Imperial Palace Guardians – a certain Mr. Ding Baozhen. To be more accurate, it was named partly after the post which he held for a decade (i.e. a Gongbao) and partly as a pun on his surname – Ding – which could be read as “small cube”. Talk about compensating for some things!

Being a loyal Imperialist, however, could only buy you a short period of time. Say a 140 years! With the Cultural Revolution rampant across the country, anything and anyone associated with the Imperial Rule were duly cast aside. Even a Sichuan dish as popular as the Kung Pao wasn’t spared – having to change its name from the Imperial Kung Pao to the more elementary “Spicy Chicken” – until it regained its former name in the 1980s. As they say, What’s In A Name, huh?!

Our Connection

在哪里 (Where)Chin Chin – Dubai, UAE
什么时候 (When)
Early 2000s

It is of no surprise, given the world that we in, that a bloke sitting in Dubai has easy access to some of the world’s famous cuisines and foods. Yes, I’m that bloke!

Prior to Dubai gaining recognition as the gastronomical capital of the Middle East – home to a myriad of Chinese culinary ventures, from friendly local neighbourhood eateries to five-star fine dining establishments – there were only a few to select from.

Growing up in Dubai, the number of Chinese restaurants that one could frequent frequently could be counted on your fingertips. One such establishment was Chin Chin. The popular Chinese restaurant chain was our go-to for anything take-away. Whether we were celebrating with friends and family or enjoying a quiet stay-in, Chin Chin was just one phone call away. All we had to do was pick up the phone, dial the number, ensure that we didn’t forget to order their Kung Pao Chicken, give them the address, et voilà! Ahhhh…such simpler times!


Difficulty: Beginner Prep Time 10 mins Cook Time 30 mins Rest Time 70 mins Total Time 1 hr 50 mins
Servings: 4
Best Season: Suitable throughout the year


"It's the most politically incorrect dish you'll ever eat! Kung Pao?! No, I'm sorry, but you can't say that. It's more appropriate to say Spicy Chicken!"



  1. Slice the chicken thighs1, length-wise, into thin medium-size pieces

  2. Add them to a large bowl. Marinate the chicken thighs with salt, black pepper powder2, oyster sauce, Chinese five spice powder, corn flour, and 1 tbsp of soy sauce 

  3. Give the chicken a good mix to ensure all of the pieces are well-coated with the spices, and corn flour. Leave it to rest for at least 1 hour3

  4. With the chicken marinating on the side, it's time to turn our attention to the vegetables

  5. Slice the red onion and red bell pepper into thin slits4. Finely chop the garlic cloves and green chillies. Submerge the dried red chillies into a bowl of warm water so that they rehydrate

  6. It's time to make the sauce! In a small bowl, pour the rice vinegar, the tomato concentrate, sugar, hoisin sauce, and the rest of the soy sauce. 

  7. Add a couple of tablespoons of water into the sauce. Stir until the sugar and tomato concentrate dissolves into the sauce

  8. Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a large pan5 and bring it over a medium-high heat

  9. Carefully add the chopped garlic and green chillies to the pan and sauté until they start to brown a little

  10. Next, add the sliced red onions and bell peppers to the pan and continue to sauté them on medium-high heat until the onions turn translucent and the bell peppers turn slightly soft

  11. Once the vegetables are sautéed, it's time to add our marinated chicken. Ensure that the pan is still hot! Carefully, add the sliced chicken thighs to the pan

  12. Cook the chicken until the outside turns a nice golden brown and the insides are ALMOST cooked through. The time taken to cook the chicken will depend on the size of the pieces

  13. When the chicken is 90% done, pour the Kung Pao sauce into the pan. Stir until the chicken pieces are coated in the sauce. Continue cooking the chicken in the sauce until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens slightly 

  14. Toss in the rehydrated red chillies, and the cashew nuts6 into the pan. Continue stirring on medium-high heat until the cashews brown (or even char ever so slightly). Once done, turn the stove off

  15. To Serve (per serving): The Kung Pao Chicken can either be served in a bowl on its own, or with a side of steamed white rice. However, I decided to have mine over a bowlful of homemade egg-fried rice!


1. I used boneless chicken thighs for this recipe. You can also use bone-in chicken thighs, which has more flavour. Alternatively, you can use chicken breasts if you prefer something with less fat content.

2. If you find sichuan peppercorns in your local Asian supermarket, you can add a pinch or two of ground peppercorns to the marinade or later while cooking. It adds a numbing spice feel to the dish, and makes the dish more authentic.

3. Ideally, the chicken should marinate for at least 24 hours (overnight). This would help get the best flavour from the meat. However, if you do not have time or space to make it a day earlier, then leave it to rest for at least 1 hour.

4. The manner in which you cut the onions and bell peppers depends on the manner in which the chicken thighs have been cut. For example, if the chicken thighs have been diced, then the onions and bell peppers should be chopped into small squares rather than thin slits. 

5. Use a wok if you have one. You will have to season the work first, with a tablespoon of oil. Once the oil is hot, pour into a separate container (heat-proof), and pour another tablespoon of oil back into the pan for cooking.

6. Alternatively, you can use peanuts instead of the cashew nuts. It's the more authentic nut to use. 

7. The prices of the ingredients (table below) are only rough estimates and are subject to change!

8. As certain ingredients are common household items - salt, pepper, oil - you may not be required to purchase them, and so the cost of preparing this dish is lower.

Keywords: Chicken, Lunch & Dinner, Main Course, Non-Vegetarian

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