Springfield, MO: Center of the Culinary Universe

Just kidding.  But at least it is today.  I about fell over when I clicked to the NY Times food section today saw this article on Springfield-style cashew chicken. 

To those unbaptized in the oyster sauce gravy, this is a dish that unites Springfieldians culturally.  It’s basically fried chunks of chicken (all white, naturally), bathed in the aforementioned gravy and sprinkled with cashew nuts and chopped green onions.

I took this photo at Fire & Ice while I was in town visiting last summer.    This recipe is THE original SSCC.  Fire & Ice only serves this dish on Wednesdays and native Springfieldians pack the place to get a taste of  this particular cashew chicken because of its pedigree.  The then-chef at Fire & Ice was Wing Yee Leong, the son of David Leong who is the father of SSCC.

When I went back to Fire & Ice in January something was terribly wrong.  Someone had tinkered with the recipe.  I detected Chinese five spice in the batter and I was not pleased.  I looked around the restaurant’s open kitchen and noticed Wing Yee was not there.  Today’s NY Times article confirmed my suspicions. He left the restaurant in December. 

Even though SSCC isn’t authentic Chinese cuisine, its authenticity comes from its roots here in Springfield. And for people like me who cut their teeth on spare ribs at Leong’s Tea House and Gee’s East Wind, when you mess with the original recipe, you mess with perfection.

5 responses to “Springfield, MO: Center of the Culinary Universe

  1. It is 9 am and I am sitting at my desk with a cup of tea having just eaten a bowl of Special K… and I am now craving Chinese food. Thanks!! j/k I know what you mean about messing with recipes… There is nothing more frustrating than looking so forward to an amazing meal and going in to find your favourite meal has been changed. Why must new chefs try to fix something that isn’t broken. If it works and people like it, it is a recipe for success.

  2. That NY Times article is fascinating. Never heard of SSCC. This would’ve been a great topic for the authenticity class because it’s obviously authentic to Springfieldians who grew up with the flavor but a native Chinese person wouldn’t recognize it as Chinese as such. So interesting! It’s a shame that all the Leong family have stopped cooking…sounds like an end of an era. We have many dishes in Hawaii like the SSCC that is unique to the state’s own culture. Thanks for sharing – you see, I can finally read stuff now that I’m not working…

    • This was actually my other idea for my dissertation, but I wound up going with the GS cookies. I would like to do a dissertation-like paper on this some day, just for fun!

  3. Sounds yum. I have never heard of Chinese 5 spice before moving here. My husband keeps talking about getting some, but what is it exactly?

    • Chinese five spice, according to the cook’s thesaurus, is typically made up of szechuwan peppercorns, fennel, cinnamon, anise and cloves. It’s quite aromatic, and in my opinion, a little goes a very long way. I don’t mind it– just not on this particular dish!

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