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.















dichotomy, and the interlinked concepts of food and health. Nonetheless, all Chinese did not by any means eat all the same food. For truly “national” dishes, we would have to look to the tables of the elite—the delicacies like sea cucumbers and birds’ nests that were served in similar preparations on banquet tables across China—and to the codified menus for official celebrations. At other times and on other tables, regional food preferences were as different as, say, the cuisines of Italy,

odor” in its back courtyard, which it shared with a Chinese grocery at 5 Mott Street. Looking outside, he saw “some Chinamen standing there handling some things that looked like very small cats or very large rats.” He told a reporter: “I didn’t see them eat the animals . . . but I don’t know why they shouldn’t do so.” (After all, a popular street ditty went: “Chink, chink, Chinaman/Eats dead rats, / Eats them up/Like gingersnaps.”) A reporter later accompanied Dr. Vermilye, the sanitary

loving Chinese food and usually letting me work. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 1.1. Samuel Shaw (1754–1794), supercargo of the Empress of China and a pioneer of Chinese-American trade 1.2. A western view of Chinese exotica: A toast at an aristocratic dinner party 1.3. Large flags proclaim the western presence in the “factory” compound on the outskirts of Guangzhou 1.4. An engraving from The Chinese Traveller depicts men catching water fowl 2.1. Caleb Cushing, the U.S. Commissioner to China

Chinese serve their “most esteemed” foreign guests nine-course banquets, while lesser visitors receive fewer courses. Finally President Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai entered, and the meal began under the glare of the television lights at the big round table next to the stage. In addition to the cold hors d’oeuvres—salted chicken, vegetarian ham, cucumber rolls, crisp silver carp, duck slices with pineapple, three colored eggs (including thousand-year-old eggs with their aroma of sulfur and

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