What is Springfield-style Cashew Chicken and Where to Find it

Cashew Chicken is a staple of Chinese cuisine, found in Chinese restaurants around the world. But Springfield-style Cashew Chicken — that’s a treat that requires a road trip to southwest Missouri in search of the restaurant and chef that brought this delicacy to life.

What is Springfield-style Cashew Chicken?

A plate filled with Springfield style Cashew Chiken.The base ingredients for cashew chicken anywhere in the world include cubed chicken, green onions and unsalted cashews. Serve it with a hoisin sauce over a bed of rice.

Some people add broccoli, green peppers and more. But in Springfield, Missouri (birthplace of Brad Pitt), cashew chicken gets an Ozark twist.

The exterior sign for Leong's Asian Diner where authentic Springfield style cashew chicken is served.

The chicken is breaded and deep fried, instead of stir fried. And the hoisin sauce is so thick it’s almost gravy. Green onions are allowed but don’t go getting all healthy by adding anymore green vegetables. Just dump it on a big plate with rice and add some more gravy.

That’s Springfield-style cashew chicken.

But what makes this dish so special is David Leong, the Chinese immigrant who landed on the beaches of Normandy in service to his new country, and who overcame racism and bigotry to become one of Springfield’s most beloved and successful citizens.

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David Leong’s Springfield-style Cashew Chicken

David Leong created Springfield style cashew chicken.David Leong was a teenager when he left his home in Guangdong China in 1940 for the United States in search of a better life. Four years later, on June 6, 1944, as a naturalized American citizen, Leong landed under a hail of machine gun fire in the fourth wave on Omaha Beach. Serving valiantly in the U.S. Army, Leong was among the bravest who began the liberation of Europe.

A wall in his restaurant, Leong’s Asian Diner in Springfield, contains a several photos of young David, wearing an Army uniform, and looking very much like one of the greatest generation.

Except he didn’t look like everyone else.

Daid Leong's military history documented on the wall of his restaurant in Springfield MissouriSo when he left the Army and came to Springfield to cook in a local restaurant, he was met with racism and violence.

In 1963, as David and his brother were building their first restaurant — the first Chinese restaurant in Springfield — the building was fire bombed. For years after it opened, as he took trash out at night, locals yelled obscenities at him.

But slowly people began to appreciate the diverse flavors and dining experience offered at Leong’s.

Finding Springfield-style Cashew Chicken in Missouri

Leong's Asian Diner in Springfield Missouri.Occasionally you can find Springfield-style cashew chicken on the menu of Chinese restaurants elsewhere in the U.S. And every Chinese restaurant in southwest Missouri serves its version. But there’s nothing like the authenticity of Leong’s Asian Diner, where East meets West in Springfield, in the middle of America.

David Leong (99 years old as I write this) still visits his restaurant every day. His son manages the day-to-day affairs of the restaurant. It’s a gift to be able to shake David’s hand as he greets his guests, many who do not know the challenges this man has faced over the years. You want to say thank you and bless you and forgive us, all in one breath.

Mango upside down cake with mango ice cream at Leong's Asian Diner in Springfield Missouri.The menu at Leong’s is long and mouth-watering. But Springfield-style Cashew Chicken outsells everything else by five-to-one, says David’s son.

There’s also a mango upside down cake served with mango ice cream for dessert that is worthy of a road trip to Missouri.

But nothing tops that comfort food flavor of the cashew chicken that Springfield made famous.

Update: David Leong died on July 20, 2020 at the age of 99.

Suggestion: When visiting Springfield, consider spending the night, or just taking a selfie in the bathroom at the Vandivort Hotel. 

Tip: For a story about another Chinese immigrant who changed the way a city eats, visit this story from Edmonton, Alberta.

Can’t Make it to Springfield?

Make Some Cashew Chicken at Home