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Chop suey facts for kids

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Chop suey
Chopsuey.jpg
Traditional Chinese 雜碎
Simplified Chinese 杂碎
Hanyu Pinyin zá suì
Cantonese Jyutping zaap6seoi3
Literal meaning odds and ends
assorted pieces

Chop suey is a dish in American Chinese cuisine and other forms of overseas Chinese cuisine, consisting of meat (often chicken, fish, beef, prawns, or pork) and eggs, cooked quickly with vegetables such as bean sprouts, cabbage, and celery and bound in a starch-thickened sauce. It is typically served with rice but can become the Chinese-American form of chow mein with the addition of stir-fried noodles. Chop suey has become a prominent part of American Chinese cuisine.

Origins

Chopsueywithrice
Chop suey, made with garlic chicken and peapods, on fried rice
Far East Chop Suey Little Tokyo LA
Far East Chop Suey restaurant in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles: Restaurants like this are now rare, but were once a common sight in the United States.

Chop suey is widely believed to have been invented in America by Chinese Americans, but the anthropologist E. N. Anderson concludes that the dish is based on tsap seui (杂碎, “miscellaneous leftovers”), common in Taishan (Toisan), a county in Guangdong province, the home of many early Chinese immigrants to the U.S. This "became the infamous 'chop suey' of third-string Chinese restaurants in the western world, but it began life as a good if humble dish among the specialist vegetable farmers of the area. At the end of the day, they would stir-fry the small shoots, thinnings, and unsold vegetables—up to ten species in a dish!" The Hong Kong doctor Li Shu-fan likewise reported that he knew it in Toisan in the 1890s.

The long list of colorful and conflicting stories about the origin of chop suey is, in the words of the food historian Alan Davidson, "a prime example of culinary mythology" and typical of popular foods.

One account claims that it was invented by Chinese American cooks working on the transcontinental railroad in the 19th century. Another tale is that it was created during Qing Dynasty premier Li Hongzhang's visit to the United States in 1896 by his chef, who tried to create a meal suitable for both Chinese and American palates. Another story is that Li wandered to a local Chinese restaurant after the hotel kitchen had closed, where the chef, embarrassed that he had nothing ready to offer, came up with the new dish using scraps of leftovers. Yet recent research by the scholar Renqui Yu led him to conclude that "no evidence can be found in available historical records to support the story that Li Hung Chang ate chop suey in the United States." Li brought three Chinese chefs with him, and would not have needed to eat in local restaurants or invent new dishes in any case. Yu speculates that shrewd Chinese American restaurant owners took advantage of the publicity surrounding his visit to promote chop suey as Li's favorite.

Another myth is that, in the 1860s, a Chinese restaurant cook in San Francisco was forced to serve something to drunken miners after hours, when he had no fresh food. To avoid a beating, the cook threw leftovers in a wok and served the miners who loved it and asked what dish is this—he replied chopped sui. There is no good evidence for any of these stories.

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