Many people refer to chop suey as a Chinese-American invention, like fortune cookies. But that’s a myth that keeps getting perpetuated.
CHOP SUEY HISTORY
There are several myths about how chop suey was invented in the U.S.
Chop Suey is actually is a prominent dish in Taishan, in the Guangdong province of southeast China. It is a city of 95 islands and islets in the Pearl River Delta.
A dish called tsap seui is common in the area, and Guangdong province was the home of many early Chinese immigrants to the U.S. [source]. Thus, when immigrants from that area opened restaurants, it was on the menu.
A stir-fry recipe, chop suey means “assorted pieces.” These can include beef, chicken, quail eggs or other cooked eggs, fish, pork and/or shrimp, plus vegetables such as bean sprouts, cabbage, celery and snow peas. Starch is added to create a thickened sauce from the oil and wok drippings.
American variations have included vegetables popular that are not in the original Taishan recipe; for example, broccoli, carrots, onions and zucchini. Numerous American recipes also “specialize”: beef chop suey or chicken chop suey, for example, instead of a mixture of proteins.
In China, chop suey is typically served with a bowl of rice. Chow mein is chop suey that ditches the rice and adds noodles* to the recipe. In other words, if your “chop suey” contains noodles, it’s chow mein.
For a moment of beauty on National Chop Suey Day, take a look at photo #2, the painting of a chop suey parlor (as some such restaurants were called many years ago) by the American painter Edward Hopper. Here’s more about the painting.
 Chop suey has an assortment of meats and vegetables, a thick sauce and no noodles. If it has noodles instead of rice, it’s called chow mein. Photo © Dušan Zidar | Fotolia.
*There are two styles of chow mein: crispy chow mein, which uses fried, flat noodles; and soft chow mein, which uses spaghetti-style noodles. “Chow mein” means stir-fried noodles. “Subgum” means “numerous and varied,” a chow mein that is a combination of ingredients (see chop suey list above) instead of all vegetable, all chicken, etc.
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