Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States

Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States

Andrew Coe

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0195331079

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In 1784, passengers on the ship Empress of China became the first Americans to land in China, and the first to eat Chinese food. Today there are over 40,000 Chinese restaurants across the United States--by far the most plentiful among all our ethnic eateries. Now, in Chop Suey Andrew Coe provides the authoritative history of the American infatuation with Chinese food, telling its fascinating story for the first time.

It's a tale that moves from curiosity to disgust and then desire. From China, Coe's story travels to the American West, where Chinese immigrants drawn by the 1848 Gold Rush struggled against racism and culinary prejudice but still established restaurants and farms and imported an array of Asian ingredients. He traces the Chinese migration to the East Coast, highlighting that crucial moment when New York "Bohemians" discovered Chinese cuisine--and for better or worse, chop suey. Along the way, Coe shows how the peasant food of an obscure part of China came to dominate Chinese-American restaurants; unravels the truth of chop suey's origins; reveals why American Jews fell in love with egg rolls and chow mein; shows how President Nixon's 1972 trip to China opened our palates to a new range of cuisine; and explains why we still can't get dishes like those served in Beijing or Shanghai. The book also explores how American tastes have been shaped by our relationship with the outside world, and how we've relentlessly changed foreign foods to adapt to them our own deep-down conservative culinary preferences.

Andrew Coe's Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States is a fascinating tour of America's centuries-long appetite for Chinese food. Always illuminating, often exploding long-held culinary myths, this book opens a new window into defining what is American cuisine.












hillier, ran all the way down the western riverbank to Macau. Here the main occupations were rice growing and fishing; thousands of seagoing fishing vessels crowded the narrow channels that connected Zhongshan with the sea. To the west, the Pearl River Delta graded into the more rugged hills of the poorer Sze Yap (Four Districts) region. Here, the largest towns lay along the Tan River; the most important was the city of Xinhui, the center of a fantail palm–growing district, whose inhabitants

diners, who knew the dish also as “chow-chop-sui” and later “chop suey.” Wong sums up: “Chinese cooking is better and cheaper than our own. It utilizes almost every part of food animals, and many plants, herbs and trees, both terrestrial and marine, unknown to our pantries.” And those stories about cats, dogs, and rats? Fictitious. Poor people will eat them in times of famine, but those animals “are not recognized articles of diet in the great restaurants, any more than at Delmonico’s or the

masses kept on gobbling chop suey with gusto, for now. CHAPTER SIX American Chop Suey In 1909, Elsie Sigel, age nineteen, lived in New York City’s Washington Heights and liked Chinese food and, apparently, Chinese men. Elsie’s mother, devoting her energies to converting the Chinese to Christianity, regularly visited a mission down on Mott Street. Both mother and daughter frequented two “chop sueys”—the one in their Upper Manhattan neighborhood and a high-class Chinese restaurant down on

preparing a bowl of chop suey for the family meal was not enough. In 1913, Harper’s Bazaar published a series of articles on how to cook and serve a Chinese dinner, luncheon, and tea party. These pieces were written by one Sara Eaton Bossé, the daughter of a Chinese mother and English father, who lived a distinctly Bohemian lifestyle as a painter and artist’s model in New York. For her, these Chinese parties were theatrical events, a way of escaping from middle-class existence into the realm of

relegated to the lowest rung of social status.) To imperial officials, the behavior of the Europeans resembled more that of dogs or sheep than that of civilized human beings. When the Empress of China—a European style of ship, with a crew who spoke the same language as the English—arrived in Guangzhou, local businessmen like Chouqua may have been curious about these people’s native land and glad to have new trading partners. To imperial officials, however, they were just more red-haired,

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