chopsueyChop Suey, is pronounced as Za Sui in Mandarin, or Tsap Seoy in Cantonese. According to The English-Chinese Word-Ocean Dictionary, the term 'Za Sui' refers to the concept of cooking chopped entrails of sheep or oxen, also referred to as 'Xia Shui'.

 

 

Compiled by Sally Wang

 

English


What is Chop Suey?

Chop Suey, is pronounced as Za Sui in Mandarin, or Tsap Seoy in Cantonese. According to The English-Chinese Word-Ocean Dictionary, the term 'Za Sui' refers to the concept of cooking chopped entrails of sheep or oxen, also referred to as 'Xia Shui'.

The earliest novel which mentioned the idea of a 'Za Sui' dish was 'The Journey to the West' [1], one of the most influential novels in China; in Chapter 75, one of the main characters stated: "I came via Guangzhou when I started escorting the Tang Priest and I've got a folding cooking pot with me that I brought in here to cook myself a mixed grill. I'll take my time enjoying your liver, bowels, stomach and lungs. They'll be enough to keep me going until spring."

This word is also mentioned in 'Journey in Yangzhou', an eighteen volume serial of actual jottings by Li Dou in the Qing Dynasty [2]: "There are many snack bars in Xiaodongmen Street, some serve cooked mutton. They will treat you first with cooked and chopped sheep entrails as locally called refreshments, and then with cooked rice in mutton broth, one bowl for each."

As you can see, the earlier version of the dish is quite different to the chop suey dishes served in Western countries. Over the years, debates arise from questioning the authenticity of chop suey dishes, to how this dish was originally created. Putting all controversies aside, chop suey has been an iconic Chinese dishes in the West for a substantial period of time.


Legends of Chop Suey

There have been ongoing debates on how chop suey was created, as this dish is nowhere to be found in China. There are currently three versions of the story which all took place in USA:

Version 1: California Gold Rush

In 1848, when the gold rush had begun in California, about 25,000 Chinese had arrived in the hope to fulfill their American dream. Most of them started laundry business, and some of them established Chinese restaurants, serving simple dishes to white miners. It is said that chop suey dishes was created at that time due to lack of ingredients and attempt to satisfy western palates.

Version 2: Li Hung-Chang's Hospitality

In 1896, the most influential diplomat at the time: Li Hung-Chang had visited the USA, which brought an oriental breeze into the country. Some says that chop suey was invented by Li Hung-Chang's personal chef at a dinner on 29th August 1896. The dish composed of celery, bean sprouts, and meat in a tasty sauce. This dish was supposedly to greet both Li's American and Chinese guests.

Version 3: Li Hung-Chang's Personal Preference

Another version of the story claimed that during Li Hung-Chang's visit in USA, he declined the fancy western food and drinks which were offered to him, but only ate what was prepared by his personal chef. As it was difficult to acquire raw ingredients in the USA at that time, Li's chef gathered some vegetables and meat, and fried them together in a tasty sauce, when Li Hung-Chang was later on interviewed by American journalists on what he has eaten, he answered: "Za sui – odds and ends." – and that is what they reported.

Interestingly enough, although chop suey has been portrayed by the westerners as China's national dish before 1960s it has been labeled by Chinese who visited Britain as "monstrosity" on the London Daily Graphics newspaper, Peh Der Chen went on to say that "...If, primed with London-acquired knowledge of food, you went to China and asked for chop suey, you would not be understood and, if you were, you might be thrown out", which suggests that chop suey was not a dish that originated from China, but mostly likely a dish created by early immigrations as an adaption to the western palates, or a solution to cover the shortage of raw ingredients at the time.

USA Timeline

 

UK Timeline

usa timeline

uk timeline

 

Timelines Designed by Sally Wang

 

 

Reference:

[1] Journey to the West (西遊記), written by Wu Cheng'en (吳承恩) in 1560 – 1580, Ming Dynasty.

[2] 'Journey in Yangzhou' (揚州畫舫錄) written by Li Dou (李斗) is a record of junior Qinhuai (秦淮, another name of Yangzhou, Qinhuai used to be the most important and busiest section of Nanjing in a time). It includes accounts of gardens and pavilions, local people and customs of Yangzhou at that time. There are also references to historical backgrounds of local opera and of novels.

 

Compiler

sally wangI've always had a passion for food!

Having worked in Chinese takeaway shops at an early age has given me an understanding and interest in Chinese cuisine, and seeing how Chinese dishes are 're-invented' in such ways to suit the tastebuds of westerners has always made me wonder: when and how are these dishes invented?

An opportunity knocked on my door when I found out about Ming-Ai's project, and I started looking into the topic of 'Who invented Chop Suey', a dish that has a prolonged history on the menu of all Chinese takeaway shops, yet never be seen in Mainland China.

I have really enjoyed working on this project, and appreciate this opportunity for me to explore into my culture.