|A dish of chop suey|
Photo by Gurav Vaida
There was a restaurant in Honk Kong that advertised real American Chop Suey. To the author’s knowledge the word in Chinese probably means “leftovers” or “assorted pieces” since that was what it was originally made from in its birthplace of
in the 1850’s. The 49ers were followed by gold hunters from
all over the world flocked to San Francisco,
including many Chinese. For the most
part these were single men and very few of them knew how to cook. Not all of the Chinese were bereft of cooking
skills and those who could cook quickly set themselves up as
restaurateurs. it wasn’t too before the
“round eyes” as the white gold miners were called discovered the Chinese
restaurants and liked the food. One of
the problems facing the Chinese was that many of the traditional ingredients
they were used too weren’t available in America, so in the best tradition of
Chinese cooking they just grabbed anything that came to hand that was
edible. The net result was Chop Suey
that is about as American as apple pie.
The only thing that was Chinese about it was that it was made by Chinese
cooks. Chop Suey was made for the round
eye miners after the cooks had already fed their regular Chinese customers, and
was traditionally made from the leftovers although the round eyes were unaware
they were being served with gussied up Chinese leftovers.
Chop Suey is translated into “mixed pieces” as that is what it is made from, but it was made mostly of makeovers. Traditionally it could contain chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or seafood along with vegetables like cabbage and celery as well as bean sprouts. The whole dish was bound together with a corn starch sauce that acted as a binder. Typically Chop Suey was served on a bed of rice although occasionally it was served with fried noodles when it became an American-Chinese dish called Chow Mein.
Aside from America Chop Suey is eaten in many other parts of the world;
is one of these countries where a variation of American Chop Suey was developed
and is termed Canadian-Chinese cuisine.
There is another variant that is eaten in India
and is known an Indian-Chinese cuisine.
An even further variant of this dish was developed in the Philippines
where it is called Filipino-Chinese cuisine.
In the Philippines
the dish contains ‘wood ear” also called “ear of the rat”, carrots and chayote
along with cabbage and sometimes bell peppers.
The actual origin of this dish appears to be the
from the district
called “Taishen” where many of the Chinese miners in the province
of Guangdong California
gold rush came from. There are many
stories telling about its invention in America including tales that it was
invented by the Chinese laborers working on the Central Pacific Railroad in the
1860’s but the actual invention predated the railroad. No matter where it was invented or where it
spread all over the world where most people think it is a strictly Chinese
invention; it isn’t. Many hands worked
on the development of this truly International-Chinese cuisine.
References:Chop Suey, Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chop_Suey