Home Today Is Chop Suey’s Origin Is As Diverse As It’s Meaning “Odds And Ends”

Chop Suey’s Origin Is As Diverse As It’s Meaning “Odds And Ends”

Get your chopsticks ready!  National Chop Suey Day recognizes this American Chinese culinary cuisine each year on August 29.

  • Chop suey, which means assorted pieces, is a dish in American Chinese cuisine. The main ingredients include meat (chicken, fish, beef, prawns or pork) and eggs. As the meat cooks over high heat, add vegetables (usually bean sprouts, cabbage, and celery). The dish is bound in a starch-thickened sauce. Typically, rice accompanies the flavorful dish, too.
  • Anthropologist E.N. Anderson finds the word tsap seui means miscellaneous leftovers and hails from Taishan, a district of Guangdong Province. Many early Chinese immigrants traveled from their home in Taishan to the United States.
  • One tale stemming from the Quing Dynasty connects to premier Li Hongzhang’s visit in 1896. According to the story, his chef wanted to create a meal suitable for both the Chinese and American palates.
  • Another version of the story tells that Li wandered to a local Chinese restaurant after the hotel kitchen closed. Despite feeling embarrassed because he had nothing prepared to offer, the chef made a dish for Li. Comprised of leftover scraps, the chef created the new “chop suey” dish.
  • Still another myth tells of an 1860s Chinese restaurant cook in San Francisco. When drunken miners arrived after hours, the chef avoided a beating thanks to some quick thinking. He threw leftovers in a wok, providing a makeshift meal to the miners. The miners loved the dish, asking him for the name of the entree. To which the chef replied, “Chopped Sui.”
  • Traveling to the United States in 1903, Liang Oichao, a Guangdong native, wrote that there existed a food item called chop suey. While regularly served by Chinese restaurateurs, the local Chinese people did not eat this dish.
  • A chop suey fad swept the ‘big city.” In 1896, Americans began to visit New York Chinese restaurants in large numbers for the first time.
  • Most Chinese servers in the 1890’s were known for their yellow jackets.
  • In Chinese, the two characters for chop suey are pronounced “tsa sui” in Mandarin or in Cantonese “shap sui,” meaning “mixed small bits” or “odds and ends.”
  • Chop suey appears in an 1884 article in the Brooklyn Eagle, by Wong Chin Foo, “Chinese Cooking”, which he says “may justly be so-called the ‘national dish of China’.” An 1888 description states it was a “staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens’ livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs’ tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices.” In 1898, it is described as “A Hash of Pork, with Celery, Onions, Bean Sprouts, etc.”


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