Chop suey
Traditional Chinese雜碎
Simplified Chinese杂碎
Hanyu Pinyinzá suì
Jyutpingzaap6 seoi3
Literal meaning(probably)
odds and ends
assorted pieces/mixed and broken

Chop suey (usually pronounced /ˈɒpˈsi/) is a dish from American Chinese cuisine and other forms of overseas Chinese cuisine, generally consisting of meat (usually chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or fish) 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 substitution of stir-fried noodles for rice.

Chop suey has become a prominent part of American Chinese cuisine, British Chinese cuisine, Filipino cuisine, Canadian Chinese cuisine, German Chinese cuisine, Indian Chinese cuisine, and Polynesian cuisine. In Chinese Indonesian cuisine/Dutch Chinese Indonesian cuisine it is known as cap cai (tjap tjoi) (雜菜, "mixed vegetables") and mainly consists of vegetables.


Chop suey is widely believed to have been developed in the U.S. by Chinese Americans, but the anthropologist E. N. Anderson, traces the dish to tsap seui (杂碎, "miscellaneous leftovers"), common in Taishan (Toisan), a county in Guangdong province, the home of many early Chinese immigrants to the United States.[1][2] Hong Kong doctor Li Shu-fan likewise reported that he knew it in Toisan in the 1890s.[3]

The long list of conflicting stories about the origin of chop suey is, in the words of food historian Alan Davidson, "a prime example of culinary mythology" and typical of popular foods.[4]

Filipino chop suey, introduced during the American colonial period of the Philippines

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 [Li Hongzhang] 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.[5]

Looking north on Grant Avenue in Chinatown, San Francisco (1952)
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. Coincidentally, both restaurants are now named Far East Café.

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 leftover meat and vegetables into a wok and served it to the miners, who loved it and asked what dish it was—he replied "chopped sui".[6] There is no good evidence for any of these stories.[7]

Chop suey appears in an 1884 article in the Brooklyn Eagle, by Wong Chin Foo, "Chinese Cooking", in which he says it "may justly be so-called the 'national dish of China'."[8][9] In 1888 Wong wrote that 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."[10] An 1896 newspaper report states: "Chow chop suey is a sort of stew made of chicken's livers and gizzards, calves' tripe, bean sprouts, celery and 'meu', which is a sort of Chinese first cousin to macaroni".[11] An article in The Illustrated American on Chinese cuisine in 1897, reproduces a menu from Ma Hung Low's restaurant on Mott Street in New York's Chinatown quarter which includes the dish "Beef Chop Suey with Bean Sprouts, Water Chestnuts and Boiled Rice." The dish itself, referred to as "the standard Chinese dish of chop suey," is described as "a stew of beef, chicken, or pork, with bean sprouts, mushrooms, water-lily roots, sprouted grain and unknown flavorings."[12] In 1898, it is described as "A Hash of Pork, with Celery, Onions, Bean Sprouts, etc."[13]

During his travels 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 do not eat, because the cooking technique is "really awful".[14]

In earlier periods of Chinese history, chop suey or chap sui in Cantonese, and za sui, in Mandarin, has different meanings 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 savor your liver, entrails, and lungs."[15] 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.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ E. N. Anderson, The Food of China, Yale University Press, 1990, ISBN 0300047398, p. 216
  2. ^ E. N. Anderson, "Guangzhou (Canton) Cuisine", in Solomon H. Katz. Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. (New York: Scribner's, 2003; Vol I ISBN 0684805685), p. 392.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Alan Davidson. The Oxford Companion to Food. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999; ISBN 0192115790), p. 182.
  5. ^ "Chop Suey: From Chinese Food to Chinese American Food", Chinese America: History and Perspectives 87 (1987): 91–93
  6. ^ Joseph R. Conlin, Bacon, Beans and Galantines: Food and Foodways on the Western Mining Frontier, University of Nevada Press: Reno 1986, pp. 192–3
  7. ^ 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 Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Chinese Cooking. Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 6 July 1884.
  9. ^ Andrew Coe, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 155.
  10. ^ Current Literature, October 1888, p. 318, as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989.
  11. ^ "New York Letter", The Racine Journal Times (October 22, 1886), p. 4.
  12. ^ "A Chinese Dinner in New York", The Illustrated American, September 4, 1897
  13. ^ Louis Joseph Beck, New York's Chinatown: An Historical Presentation of Its People and Places, p. 50 full text at Internet Archive
  14. ^ Liang, Qichao (1903) 新大陆游记 [zh] (Travels in the New Continent). Beijing: Social Sciences Documentary Press (reprint 2007). ISBN 7-80230-471-7. “然其所谓杂碎者,烹饪殊劣,中国人从无就食者。”
  15. ^ Wu, Cheng'en, and Anthony C. Yu. The Journey to the West (vol. 3). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012, ISBN 0226971376, p. 379

Further reading

Cookbooks with recipes for chop suey and accounts of Chinese American cuisine