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, the United States is home to more Chinese restaurants than any other ethnic cuisine. In this authoritative new history, author Andrew Coe traces the fascinating story of America's centuries-long encounter with Chinese food. CHOP SUEY tells how we went from believing that Chinese meals contained dogs and rats to making regular pilgrimages to the neighborhood chop suey parlor. From China, the book follows the story to the American West, where both Chinese and their food struggled against racism, and then to New York and that crucial moment when Chinese cuisine first crossed over to the larger population.
Along this journey, 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 origin; illuminates why American Jews fell in love with egg rolls and chow mein; and shows how Nixon's 1972 trip to China opened our palates to a new world of cuisine; and explains why we still can't get dishes like restaurants serve in China. The book also shows how larger historical forces shape our tastes—the belief in Manifest Destiny, the American assertion of military might in the Pacific, and the country's post-WWII rise to superpower status. Written for both popular and academic audiences, CHOP SUEY reveals this story through prose that brings to life the characters, settings and meals that helped form this crucial component of American food culture.