Get your chopsticks ready! National Chop Suey Day is recognized each year on August 29.
Chop suey, which means “assorted pieces,” is a dish in American Chinese cuisine consisting of meat (chicken, fish, beef, prawns or pork) and eggs that are cooked quickly with vegetables (usually bean sprouts, cabbage and celery) and bound in a starch-thickened sauce. Rice typically accompanies this delicious dish.
“A prime example of culinary mythology” and typical with popular foods, there is a long list of colorful and conflicting stories of the origin of chop suey, according to food historian Alan Davidson.
It is believed, by some, that chop suey was invented in America by Chinese Americans. However, anthropologist E.N. Anderson concludes that it is based on tsap seui (miscellaneous leftovers) which is common in Taishan, a district of Guangdong Province. Taishan is the home of many early Chinese immigrants to the United States.
Another account claims that chop suey was invented by Chinese American cooks that were working on the transcontinental railroad in the 19th century.
A prime example of culinary mythology. ~ Alan Davidson on the origin of chop suey.
A tale is told of chop suey’s creation stemming from the Qing Dynasty premier Li Hongzhang’s visit to the United States in 1896. According to the story, his chef wanted to create a meal that was suitable for both the Chinese and the American palates. It has also been told that Li wandered to a local Chinese restaurant after the hotel kitchen closed, where the chef, embarrassed that he had nothing ready to offer, came up with the new “chop suey” dish using scraps of leftovers.
Another myth tells of an 1860s Chinese restaurant cook in San Francisco that was forced to serve something to the drunken miners after hours. To avoid a beating, having nothing fresh to offer, he threw leftovers in a wok and provided a makeshift meal to the miners. The miners loved the dish, asked him what it was called to which he 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 which was popularly served by Chinese restaurateurs, but which local Chinese people did not eat.