Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States

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Overview

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 ...

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Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wide-ranging look at the interaction of Chinese food and American society and a fascinating mélange of gastronomic tidbits and historical nuggets."—Wall Street Journal

"An enlightening study of America's fascination with Chinese food, from our first epicurean envoys in 1748 to the plethora of Chinese restaurants of every caliber that dot the landscape today."—Barnes & Noble Review

"If my family's knowledge of real Chinese food was stunted— and we weren't alone—Andrew Coe's engaging history tells why."—Seattle Times

"Coe's delightful book is a bit of 'odds and ends' itself, with pages on the use of pidgin, Chinese-kosher cuisine, the new look of San Francisco's Chinatown after the earthquake, the connection of Chinatowns with white slavery, and the Kon-Tiki craze for Cantonese food. The Chinese food we get is mostly a hybrid; Coe has documented a cuisine that may not always be authentic Chinese, but is a genuine American success story."—Columbus Dispatch

"According to food writer Coe, America's taste for Chinese tea goes back more than two centuries, and so does our confusion about the use of chopsticks. In this brief but ambitious volume, he chronicles the back-and-forth story of our relationship to the Middle Kingdom, its people and, above all, its food...Like its subject, the book is a little bit of a lot of different things at once—a solid and comprehensive sampling of a much larger topic."—Publishers Weekly

"Coe's ever-surprising history brims with plenty of enchanting anecdotes. "—Booklist

"Andrew Coe draws on the history, politics and cuisine of two hungry nations to tell one of the most fascinating stories in east-west cultural history: how Americans learned to stop worrying and love Chinese food."—Laura Shapiro, author of Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America

"This book will take an important place on a growing shelf of works that seriously tackles the conjunctions of food, migration, and ethnicity in America."—Hasia R. Diner, author, Hungering for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration

"Chop Suey is a dish with crispy vegetables, crunchy noodles, and leftover meat or poultry which balances texture and flavor. It was created in the early 20th century with good reason-most Americans were not as sophisticated about food as they are today. In his immensely likable and detailed history, Andrew Coe tells us why early generations of Chinese restaurant owners like my mother and father-in-law served the food that they believed Americans liked instead of cooking the food that they themselves loved to eat."—Susanna Foo, two-time James Beard Award winner, and recipient of the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence

"I always wondered how it was that the rich variety, delicacy, and refinement of Chinese cuisines got translated into Chinese takeout from restaurants in every town in America. Coe tells riveting stories of the ups and downs of American-Chinese relations in both countries through our cross-cultural exchange of food. I couldn't put this marvelous book down, but now it's time to eat—Chinese, of course."—Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and author of What to Eat

"His research among U.S. sources is solid, and his chronicle interesting and informative, especially regarding Nixon's trip to China."—Library Journal

"If you know what people eat, why they eat it, and how they eat it, you know a lot about the people. In Chop Suey, Andrew Coe's meticulous scholarship and engaging story telling combine for a page-turning, mouth-watering tale of two cultures and how they relate. I recommend it to all world leaders, diplomats, and everyone who loves Chinese food. No joke!"—Arthur Schwartz, author of Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited

"The story of America's love-hate relationship with Chinese food ... is told in this well-researched, lively and digestible book. Some of its tales of misconceptions of the Chinese and their food are hilarious, some are shocking."—Financial Times

"Andrew Coe is a very fine writer indeed ... [He] takes deeply researched historical information and presents them smoothly, telling stories that are packed with fascinating details to bring a subject we think we know into much clearer perspective."—WritersCast.com

Publishers Weekly

According to food writer Coe, America's taste for Chinese tea goes back more than two centuries, and so does our confusion about the use of chopsticks. In this brief but ambitious volume, he chronicles the back-and-forth story of our relationship to the Middle Kingdom, its people and, above all, its food. Meals eaten by Americans in China in the early years of mercantilism and diplomacy (late 18th and early 19th century) were more European than Asian; the author dates the first record of an American eating indigenous Chinese food only to 1819. The gold rush and other expansionist projects brought thousands of Chinese to American soil along with their culture and their cuisine. Though xenophobia sometimes erupted as violent racism, public eating establishments in some cities began attracting the curious, and fads for such Westernized Chinese dishes as the eponymous stir-fry of the book's title swept urban populations. This short, dense history comes full circle with another American diplomatic mission: Nixon's historic 1972 banquet. Like its subject, the book is a little bit of a lot of different things at once-a solid and comprehensive sampling of a much larger topic. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In 1784, the first Americans to visit the Middle Kingdom encountered Cantonese food. It was not love at first sight—only after waves of 19th-century Chinese immigrants brought their daily fare to the new world did Americans come to appreciate the "hashes and fricassees" from a people rumored to eat dogs, cats, and rats. By the 1890s, New Yorkers had gone chop suey crazy, and the die was cast. VERDICT Fans of Jennifer 8 Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles should appreciate this detailed, convoluted history of how Chinese food came to be seen as American as apple pie. Coe's account (he is a food journalist and coauthor of Foie Gras) lacks Lee's personal touch and could use a time line for dates and dynasties. But his research among U.S. sources is solid, and his chronicle interesting and informative, especially regarding Nixon's trip to China. Consider also British historian J.A.G. Roberts's China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West and Jen Lin-Liu's Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia


—Martha Cornog
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195331073
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/16/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,449,633
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Coe has written for Saveur, Gastronomica, and the New York Times, is a coauthor of Foie Gras: A Passion and has contributed to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. He has dined at Chinese restaurants around the world and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Table of Contents

1 Stags' pizzles and birds' nests 1

2 Putrified garlic on a much-used blanket 38

3 Coarse rice and water 64

4 Chinese gardens on Gold Mountain 103

5 A toothsome stew 144

6 American chop suey 180

7 Devouring the duck 211

Photo credits 253

Notes 255

Bibliography 265

Index 279

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2012

    Dawnheart

    *wakes up. She stands up and walks out of the den*

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2012

    Very engaging read

    Fascinating overview of the history of chinese cuisine in america, and its evolution. Meticulous and well written.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2012

    Interesting read

    Fascinating to see the history of Chinese food as it has evolved in America.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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