Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America

Overview

American diners began to flock to Chinese restaurants more than a century ago, making Chinese food the first mass-consumed cuisine in the United States. By 1980, it had become the country's most popular ethnic cuisine. Chop Suey, USA offers the first comprehensive interpretation of the rise of Chinese food, revealing the forces that made it ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape and turned the country into an empire of consumption.

Engineered by a politically ...

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Overview

American diners began to flock to Chinese restaurants more than a century ago, making Chinese food the first mass-consumed cuisine in the United States. By 1980, it had become the country's most popular ethnic cuisine. Chop Suey, USA offers the first comprehensive interpretation of the rise of Chinese food, revealing the forces that made it ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape and turned the country into an empire of consumption.

Engineered by a politically disenfranchised, numerically small, and economically exploited group, Chinese food's tour de America is an epic story of global cultural encounter. It reflects not only changes in taste but also a growing appetite for a more leisurely lifestyle. Americans fell in love with Chinese food not because of its gastronomic excellence but because of its affordability and convenience, which is why they preferred the quick and simple dishes of China while shunning its haute cuisine. Epitomized by chop suey, American Chinese food was a forerunner of McDonald's, democratizing the once-exclusive dining-out experience for such groups as marginalized Anglos, African Americans, and Jews.

The rise of Chinese food is also a classic American story of immigrant entrepreneurship and perseverance. Barred from many occupations, Chinese Americans successfully turned Chinese food from a despised cuisine into a dominant force in the restaurant market, creating a critical lifeline for their community. Chinese American restaurant workers developed the concept of the open kitchen and popularized the practice of home delivery. They streamlined certain Chinese dishes, such as chop suey and egg foo young, turning them into nationally recognized brand names.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/28/2014
Chen's decades-in-the-making sociological history of Chinese food in the U.S. is both a thoroughly researched and reported academic work and an engaging popular history. An associate professor of history at UC-Irvine, Chen vividly recounts the Western adoption of Chinese food; the Chinese "mastery of Western cooking" with dishes like gumbo (recipe also provided); the emergence of Chinese-American communities; and the arrival of Chinese food in the 1850s. "Their experience was not simply a food story but a highly political one that intersected with the cultural and socioeconomic currents in the fast changing city," he writes, using the food narrative, as he does throughout, to raise larger questions about community, identity, class, and globalization. As Chen points out:"Chinese restaurants rose to serve cheap food largely to underprivileged American consumers. Coming to China a century later, however, American fast food became an important part of the lifestyle of young and affluent consumers." His overall aim, to make the study of food an "exciting intellectual endeavor," adds up to a excellent cultural history. (Oct.)
Jeffrey Pilcher

A thoroughly researched, highly readable account of the development of Chinese American food, this book fills important gaps in the literature of ethnic and food studies, while incorporating an appealing personal memoir into the narrative.

Hasia Diner

Well organized and breathtakingly broad in its geographic scope, Chop Suey, USA is an utterly original and significant contribution to the field. Yong Chen has done a superb job. No one has attempted anything like this.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Yong Chen, raised by his food-loving mother in China, is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and served as the institution's associate dean of graduate studies. Among his numerous publications are Chinese San Francisco, 1850--1943: A Trans-Pacific Community. He co-curated a museum exhibit on the history of Chinese restaurants in the United States, and his commentaries on food, immigration, and Sino-American relations appear frequently in the media in four languages.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface: The Genesis of the BookAcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Chop Suey, the Big Mac of the Pre-McDonald's Era1. Why Is Chinese Food So Popular?2. The Empire and Empire Food3. Chinese Cooks as Stewards of Empire4. The Cradle of Chinese Food5. The Rise of Chinese Restaurants6. The Makers of American Chinese Food7. "Chinese-American Cuisine" and the Authenticity of Chop Suey8. The Chinese Brillat-SavarinConclusion: The Home of No ReturnAfterword: Why Study Food?NotesBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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