Chop suey

Chop suey
Chop suey
Traditional Chinese 雜碎
Simplified Chinese 杂碎
Hanyu Pinyin zá suì
Cantonese Jyutping zaap6 seoi3
Literal meaning to break into many pieces

Chop suey (Chinese: ; pinyin: suì; literally "assorted pieces") is a Chinese dish consisting of meat (often chicken, fish, beef, shrimp (UK: 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, Filipino cuisine, Canadian Chinese cuisine, Indian Chinese cuisine, and Polynesian cuisine. In Indonesian Chinese cuisine it is known as Cap cai (雜菜, "mixed vegetables") and mainly consists of vegetables.



Chop suey, made with garlic chicken and peapods, on fried rice
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 immigrants, but in fact comes from Taishan (Toisan), a district of Guangdong Province (Canton), which was the home of many of the early Chinese immigrants to the US. The Hong Kong doctor Li Shu-fan reported that he knew it in Taishan in the 1890s.[1]

Chop suey appears in a 1884 article in the Brooklyn Eagle, by Wong Chin Foo, "Chinese Cooking," which he says "may justly be called the "national dish of China." [2] An 1888 description calls it "A staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens' livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs' tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices."[3] In 1898, it is described as "A Hash of Pork, with Celery, Onions, Bean Sprouts, etc."[4]

Despite its Taishan (Toisan) background, there are various colorful stories about its origin, which Davidson (1999) characterizes as "culinary mythology": Some say it was invented by Chinese immigrant cooks working on the United States transcontinental railroad in the 19th century. Another story is that it was invented during Qing Dynasty premier Li Hongzhang's visit to the United States in 1896 by his chef, who tried to create a dish suitable for both Chinese and American palates.[5][6] Yet another is that, in the 1860's, 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.[7] There is no good evidence for any of these stories.[8]

Outside of Taishan (Toisan), the name "chop suey" or "shap sui in Cantonese,[5] and "za sui", when used in Mandarin, has the somewhat different meaning of cooked animal offal or entrails. For example, in the classic novel Journey to the West (circa 1590), Sun Wukong tells a lion-monster in chapter 75: "When I passed through Guangzhou , I bought a pot for cooking za sui - so I'll savour your liver, entrails, and lungs." This may be the same as the "Chop Suey Kiang" found in 1898 New York.[4]

During his exile in the United States, Liang Qichao, a Guangdong(Canton) native, wrote in 1903 that there existed in the United States a food item called chop suey which was popularly served by Chinese restaurateurs, but which local Chinese people did not eat.[9] The term "za sui" (杂碎) is found in newer Chinese-English dictionaries with both meanings listed: cooked entrails, and chop suey in the Western sense.

See also


  • E.N. Anderson, The Food of China, Yale University Press, 1988.
  • Andrew Coe, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, 2009. ISBN 0195331079.
  • Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999.
  • Monica Eng, "Chop Suey or Hooey?" Orig Chicago Tribune, January 4, 2006, online rpr. Honolulu Advertiser, [1]


  1. ^ E.N.Anderson, Jr. and Marja L. Anderson, "Modern China: South" in K.C. Chang, Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives, Yale, 1977. p. 355.
  2. ^ Andrew Coe, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 155.
  3. ^ Current Literature, October 1888, p. 318, as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989.
  4. ^ a b Louis Joseph Beck, New York's Chinatown: An Historical Presentation of Its People and Places, p. 50 full text at Google Books
  5. ^ a b The Facts on File Encyclopedia or Word and Phrase Origins, Checkmark Books, New York, 2000.
  6. ^ Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast
  7. ^ Joseph R. Conlin, Bacon, Beans and Galantines: Food and Foodways on the Western Mining Frontier, University of Nevada Press: Reno 1986, p. 192-3
  8. ^ Renqiu Yu, "Chop Suey: From Chinese Food to Chinese American Food", in Chinese America: History and Perspectives (1987) (not seen), as reported in Madeline Y. Hsu, "From Chop Suey to Mandarin Cuisine: Fine Dining and the Refashioning of Chinese Ethnicity During the Cold War Era," in Sucheng Chan, Madeline Yuan-yin Hsu, eds., Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008): 173–193. full text in PDF
  9. ^ Liang, Q. (1903) 新大陆游记 (Travels in the New Continent). Beijing: Social Sciences Documentary Press (reprint 2007). ISBN 7802304717.

External links

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  • chop suey — [ʃɔpswi; ʃɔpsɥɛ] n. m. ÉTYM. Répandu v. 1960; mot chinois cantonais, « morceaux mêlés », empr. par l anglais (1888, aux États Unis; in Oxford Suppl.). ❖ ♦ Plat chinois de viande (morceaux de bœuf, poulet) avec des légumes, frit à l huile de… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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