The term ‘Chop Suey’ actually means “Assorted Pieces”. Your first question should be, what’s assorted pieces? It is supposed to be made with chicken or beef, fish, prawns, or pork. Mixed in are eggs, cabbage, celery, and sprouts. It is normally served over rice and considered a complete meal. Of course, it always has those little ears of corn that must come from some sort of Bonsai plant.
The problem with chop suey is that no one knows exactly where it came from. Though it is believed to actually be an American dish, made by Chinese in America, there is some mention of it in the Taishan Guangdong province in China, according to E.D. Anderson, an anthropologist. It was in Taishan that the first of the Chinese immigrants to America came over from.
Chop Suey may have come about because of the Chinese helping build the railroad across America in the mid 1800’s. It would make sense since supplies were generally hard to come by and a creative improvisation for something that tasted good was a must. Bits and pieces from this and that would go a long way all mixed together.
Another legend says that chop suey came from San Fransico when a Chinese chef had to come up with a dish to feed some hungry miners in the 1860’s who had been drinking a bit too much. It had to be good or else! Since we heard nothing “else” the miners must have enjoyed their meal.
And then there was Premier Li Hangzhang’s, of the Qing Dynasty, visit to the U.S. in 1896 and the chef who could find nothing to serve him worth his status. In order to show the Premier that relations between America and China were good, the chef decided to prepare a meal that offered the best of both worlds. It must have worked since we did not hear anything about heads rolling during the Premier’s trip.
Whatever the source, in 1903, Liang Oichao, from Guangdong, traveled across the U.S. finding chop suey being served nearly everywhere he went. It was the only Chinese dish being served that he had never heard of in China.
How to celebrate – Have some chop suey for supper tonight. Create your own chop suey dish. Check your family recipes and see if you can find a recipe for chop suey that might precede 1860.