Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States
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.
regions along this stretch are among the oldest and most important in China. Traditionally, the lower Yangzi has marked the boundary between the northern and southern halves of China Proper, with their differences of climate, agriculture, and culture. (Northerners have long looked down on the South, calling it a zone of heat, humidity, and insects.) Lying between the Yangzi and the border with Vietnam, the South is a region dominated by low mountains and hills that has much less arable land than
cheap lunch counters or the stuffiness of Delmonico’s: There is also a free and easy atmosphere about the Chinese eating house which attracts many would-be “Bohemians,” as well as a goodly share of the class below the lowest grades of the city’s many graded Bohemia. Visitors loll about and talk and laugh loudly. When the waiter is wanted some one emits a shrill yell which brings an answering whoop from the kitchen, followed sooner or later by a little Chinese at a dog trot. Any one who feels
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
79–80, 83–84, 86 See also Chinese food in America Chinese culture: banquet etiquette, 46, 47–48, 92–93, 235, 238 chopstick etiquette, 46, 48, 51, 63 early reference works on, 22– 24, 33–35, 56–59, 62–63 gender separation in, 44, 93, 94, 97 social hierarchies in, 93 See also Chinese cuisine; Imperial China Chinese Exclusion Act, 142, 161, 205, 206, 216–17 Chinese food in America: Americanization of, 191–92 in arts and entertainment, 168, 187–88, 191, 195–98, 200–204, 214 as cheap and
filling, 159, 192, 203, 211, 251 cookbooks for, 185, 186, 217–19, 222, 248 on grocery shelves, 91, 192–94, 240, 250 home cooking of, 185–87, 192–94 influence of Nixon’s visit on, 240–43 Jewish embrace of, 198–205 post-World War II revitalization of, 217–24 stagnation in, 210–15, 216, 247 See also Chinese restaurants in America; chop suey; recipes Chinese history: Beijing Summer Olympics (2008), 248–50 Boxer Rebellion, 165–66 Communist takeover, 217, 220, 223, 225 Cultural Revolution,