How Cashew Chicken Helped Find Its Way.

At the heart of this Springfield project is a simple question: What matters to people here? This is the story of how deep-fried chicken helped lead us to that question.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Jordan Hickey
published April 28, 2012

Cashew chicken at the Cashew Inn

Jordan turned to me on Monday night and asked me what I wanted for dinner. It was late already. We’d just spent two hours at a City Council meeting in Springfield, Mo. I hadn’t eaten lunch. I told him I didn’t care. Food — any food — would be welcome.

“You interested in a $4 plate of cashew chicken?”

Was I?

Of course I was!

And it turns out, I learned something on Monday about cashew chicken: Here, they serve it Springfield style. You’ve never had Chinese food quite like this. Springfield-style cashew chicken features deep-fried chunks of chicken smothered in onions, cashews and a sauce that’s as thick as gravy.

It’s what would happen if KFC started making Chinese food. And it’s delicious.

Springfield-style cashew chicken is on every other block, it seems. There’s a restaurant called Cashew Station around the corner. We passed a drive-thru called Cashew Inn, Cashew Out on Tuesday.

And after driving past the fiftieth cashew place or so, I turned to Jordan and said: I can’t believe there are so many of these places. This stuff obviously matters to people around here, which means that it needs to matter to us, too.

And Jordan said a wise thing: “You know, that’s what we should be telling our sources: We’re in Springfield to tell stories about the things that matter to people here.”

And all I could think was… Yes! YES! Of course that’s what we’re doing here! That’s the one-line pitch for Sure, we’re still focused on this idea of an Interconnected America, and yes, we’re going to document the problems and issues that exist here in the Ozarks.

But at the heart of this Springfield project is a simple question: What matters to people here?

It took cashew chicken to help us find an even clearer focus for our reporting.