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.
I learned about so much more than Chinese food in this book. The writer took me on a walk through history of the Chinese people beginning in their home country, to their arrival in San Fransisco during the 1800s, and into President Nixon’s famous trip to China. To say the Chinese were treated poorly is an understatement but they endured. They opened restaurants and shops and adapted to American tastes while keeping their dignity. I plan to buy this book for two people this Christmas.
I saw this book while perusing the 100 books under $3.99 special Amazon does every month. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t buy this book when I first saw it because the title “Chop Suey” sounded like some racial taunt and it just turned me off. I later came to my senses and bought the book and it was much richer and more rewarding than I thought it was going to be. It’s important to point out that this is not a breezy read, it is a very dense, detail filled book and it sometimes drifts quite far from the topic of food. In fact a lot of the time it reads more like a book about Chinese history or the history of Chinese immigration to America. The author goes to great lengths to inform us about these various historical details before delving in to the main topic of the book: the food. Not to imply that cuisine is an afterthought, it’s ever present but like me you may be a little frustrated when you start the book and it talks about an American ship sailing to China and diplomacy and all that and it doesn’t get straight to food. But believe me the wait is worth it. One thing that bothered me were the stories of racism towards the Chinese. As a Asian-American I am very sensitive to those types of stories and I really didn’t want to read a book that would depress. Fortunately that was not the case. While there is definitely some awful stories about how white Europeans and Americans viewed the Chinese and their food in the end it’s a kind of redemptive arc where America finally does accept Chinese food in the end. One thing I would’ve liked is if the author had added one more chapter towards the end of the book where he wrote about present day Chinese Food, takeout culture, maybe a anecdote about Chinese food in American pop culture, such as the infamous Chinese restaurant episode on Seinfeld. I could not recommend the book any higher it’s definitely a treasured addition to my Kindle library. I’ll end my review with one of my favorite quotes from the book. “”I’m surprised to find this prejudice in you,” he exclaimed, rather petulantly. “A Chinese dinner is as clean as an American dinner, only far better.””
If you like food and want to really understand it, books like this are the answer. This is a surprisingly engaging, interesting book. Who knew that Chop Suey is not really Chinese? (The Chinese, of course). Then I learn that Teriyaki Chicken was invented in Seattle by a Chinese American cook. Very interesting discussion of cultures, people, etc.
- Title: Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States
- Autor: Andrew Coe
- Publisher (Publication Date): Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 16, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: | 0195331079
- ISBN-13: | 978-0195331073
- Download File Format: EPUB, PDF