Chop Suey
January 10, 2020 7:05 PM - by Andrew Coe - Subscribe

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. Now, in Chop Suey Andrew Coe provides some 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.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (4 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
First time I really edited the Amazon blurb, but this book came out in 2009, and so did the blurb. Some lightly icky language choices I removed. SO this book was first referred to me in May on the comments to my post on A Square Meal. Written by this author and his wife. H/T briank. I would not, as some of the blurbs do, call this book "authoritative" as frankly I thought it could be 200 pages longer. BUT it is a really good look at the history of Chinese food in America, and how "classics" our parents ate were wholesale inventions by Chinese American cooks catering to the American palate. Of course by my time, I was never served chop suey. Where this book really shines is in the back story to explain how Chinese food reached American shores, and the reasons/racism behind the palate clashes between Chinese and western foodways. It also has a good look at some of the reasons behind American Jew's warm embrace of Chinese cuisine. It also looks at the fact that what American's call Chinese food is really the food of one small region of China, and not a very accurate recreation of that. Up until Nixon's visit to China this book is great, But I feel that considering the last 10 years, if this book came out in 2019 it could have had some added richness. A good read, by a reliable author, on an interesting subject.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:13 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


I’ve not read this book, but sounds like it covers similar ground to The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee, if you are looking for 200 pages more.
posted by Concordia at 4:06 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I am always looking for 200 pages more- thanks for the rec!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:51 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


That’s my in-law’s book!
posted by Ideefixe at 8:45 PM on January 15


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