You may see various dishes labeled Bang-Bang Chicken in many restaurants, often offered as appetizers. Bang-bang shrimp is also popular. Many semi-causal restaurant chains, including The Cheesecake Factory, and Bonefish Grill, offer some version of the dish.
However, it is actually Chinese (Szechuan) in origin. Even if your local Chinese take-out doesn’t list bang bang chicken on its menu, it probably still offers the dish under a different name.
Bang bang chicken also goes by the names of bon bon, pon pon, or pang bang.
Bang-bang chicken is traditionally a dish of cold chicken drizzled with a spicy and nutty sauce sold as a snack by street vendors in the Szechuan region of China. The dish can be simply described as “shredded chicken with sesame sauce.”
The chicken is tenderized and shredded by pounding with a heavy wooden stick. It is often claimed that the name ‘bang-bang’ comes from the sound of the chicken being pounded with the stick – BANG BANG!
This origin claim is, of course, silly. It is doubtful that the Chinese would use the word “BANG!” in the same way as English speakers do. And, in fact, the word bàng (榜) in Chinese simply means “stick.”
Bon, pon, and pang are most likely just different attempts to render the word in English, but all meaning the same thing.
The full Romanticized name would be bàng bàng ji (棒棒鸡) or bàng bàng ji si (棒棒雞絲). The name of the dish seems to refer to the wooden rod or cudgel used to pound the chicken.
According to Three Hungry Tummies, bang is also slang for “fantastic” in Mandarin. The flavors are salty, sweet, sour, hot, and numbing (due to the peppercorns).
The dish is also sometimes called strange flavor chicken, or gai wei ji si (怪味雞絲).
To make the dish, simmered chicken is pounded into shreds and mixed with a sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, sesame paste (peanut butter is sometimes used), sesame oil, chili oil, sugar, and Szechuan peppercorn. The chicken is served over served over lettuce leaves with other shredded vegetables such as scallion, and cucumber, and the sauce drizzled on top. It may also be served with noodles.
In America the chicken might be presented in many different ways, and the “bang bang” refers to any similar sauce, such as simply a sauce for chicken wings, or breaded and fried chicken pieces.