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Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States

3.37  ·  Rating Details ·  342 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
In 1784, passengers on the ship Empress of China became the first Americans to land in China, and the first to eat Chinese food. Today there are over 40,000 Chinese restaurants across the United States--by far the most plentiful among all our ethnic eateries. Now, in Chop Suey Andrew Coe provides the authoritative history of the American infatuation with Chinese food, tell ...more
Hardcover, 303 pages
Published July 1st 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA
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Jul 29, 2012 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, food
What a novel idea! Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States examines Chinese-American relationships from the point of view of what our people thought of Chinese food during the 200-odd year history of Sino-American relations. At first, it was thought that Chinese food was filthy and consisted of such undesirable ingredients as dogs, cats, and rats. Little by little, especially from the 1890s on, the prevailing opinion changed; and Americans flocked to the new Chinese re ...more
Dec 07, 2009 Carl rated it it was ok
This is more a history of the American perception of China and Chinese foods. I was disappointed by the long diversions into the historical incidents. I book does not really deal with the explosion of interest in Chinese and all kinds of asian food in the 1980's and how that has changed American's feelings about ingredients, methods and techniques of Chinese cooking.
Jonathan Hiskes
Dec 15, 2012 Jonathan Hiskes rated it it was ok
There is a great book to be written about the immigration experience and "authentic" food, what Americans want Chinese food to be and how American Chinese restaurants respond, and the differences between English menu and off-the-menu items in Chinese restaurants. Coe's book tries to shed light on these things but relies too heavily on historical documents barely related to food. It shows little evidence the author got to know actual Chinese-American people, and suffers for it.
Robert Beveridge
Aug 27, 2009 Robert Beveridge rated it really liked it
Andrew Coe, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in America (Oxford, 2009)

As someone who both was born in 1968 and is a lover of Chinese food, I actually lived through much of the last chapter of Andrew Coe's book, and I was somehow entirely unaware of it all. So as he was writing about the way Chinese restaurants in America have changed over the past twenty or so years, I kept saying “yeah, just like that” in my head, but I had somehow not noticed what really are major changes in the w
Feb 23, 2010 Jill rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-literature
Another surprisingly good read on Chinese food. I'd expected Chop Suey to delve into the origins of such well-loved American standards like moo goo gai pan, egg fu yong, General Tso's chicken and well, chop suey. Not unlike the Fortune Cookie Chronicles which was, unfortunately, a rather ghastly book. But Chop Suey surprised me by starting its exploration of the history of Chinese Food in the US with the Americans' first contact with China, when the Empress of China sailed to China in 1784 on a ...more
May 20, 2012 Megan rated it liked it
Coe sets out to describe the history of Chinese food in the US, which sounded like a really interesting topic. However, he seems a lot more interested in Chinese food in China. There are entire chapters devoted to that, while the cultural phenomenon of Chinese take-out gets less than a paragraph.

The parts about Chinese food in the US were interesting, I just wish there was more of that and less about European and American dignitaries visiting China.
Jana Perskie
Jan 17, 2012 Jana Perskie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
"Chop Suey" is a gem of a book which gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of the history, politics, and cuisine of two widely disparate countries, China, (The Middle Kingdom), and the U.S. This volume just came out in bookstores today, July 16, and I really hope it receives the consideration it deserves.

American trade with the Middle Kingdom began in February 1784, when the ship, "Empress of China," captained by John Green, set sail from New York on a previously uncharted course - the only gu
Bob Anderson
Oct 19, 2016 Bob Anderson rated it really liked it
This is a book that’s missing a last chapter. It ends in the middle of the 1970s, which completely misses exciting topics like gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods, foodie crazes, and food trucks. The rest is a great read: Coe covers all sorts of perspectives on Chinese food. American journeys to China, Chinese immigration, discrimination, earlier food adventurism, food journalism and more are all discussed. And when he gets around to describing what’s actually eaten, he writes sufficiently ...more
T. W. Duncan
Dec 29, 2013 T. W. Duncan rated it did not like it
Andrew Coe's book Chop Suey offers readers a walk through the history of Chinese cuisine as seen through the lens of Americans. The story follows the evolution of Chinese-American food and how this food was accepted, rejected or stereotyped in the United States. The book was in sequential order, taking us from the first American traders with China in the late 1700s all the way to the Olympics of 2008. There is a story to be told about the Chinese immigration experience to the United States and ...more
I love food, and I love history, so a book telling the history of a specific cuisine totally appealed to me. Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for what could have been an enticing history of American style Chinese food. Instead, it gets hung up in the early history of both Chinese food in China and Chinese food in America in the 1800s then hops, skips, and jumps over how it changed through the 1900s up to present. While this information is interesting, it is not the history of American ...more
susan moore
Oct 08, 2016 susan moore rated it it was amazing
An interesting read. It's not often I find a book that looks at a History of a cuisine....
Desiree Koh
Dec 17, 2015 Desiree Koh rated it really liked it
I do not care very much for American Chinese food. I know there is a place for Panda Express, orange chicken, broccoli beef, chow mein, lo mein, China Buffets, pot stickers with skin so thick you could wear them for a Chicago winter, but I don't like that place. It could be because as a homesick freshman, I picked up a takeout menu for Phoenix Inn in the lobby of Shepard Residence Hall and saw "beef hor fun." Beef hor fun! Might there be a slice of Geylang in Evanston, Ill.? That beef hor fun ...more
Linda Whitney
Oct 14, 2016 Linda Whitney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Scrumptious Walk Through History

I learned about so much more than Chinese food in this book. The writer took me on a walk through history of the Chinese people beginning in their home country, to their arrival in San Fransisco during the 1800s, and into President Nixon's famous trip to China. To say the Chinese were treated poorly is an understatement but they endured. They opened restaurants and shops and adapted to American tastes while keeping their dignity. I plan to buy this book for two
Nov 13, 2014 Bookworm rated it did not like it
Dreadfully misnamed book From the title and blurb on the book, I thought the author would take the reader through a journey of the rise of "Chinese" food in the United States--really "Americanized" food adjusted for the palates. Instead, the reader is treated to an extremely tedious text of immigration of Chinese people to the United States, including how they were viewed, from racist and troubling depictions, treatment, violence, etc. to gradual acceptance (more or less).

Food plays a pretty min
Aug 27, 2010 Adrienne rated it liked it
My trip to Taiwan 5 years ago led to a fascinating discovery: the Chinese food you get in the United States is very different from what you get in China or Taiwan. How did the food get adapted to American tastes and become so popular? Andrew Coe's Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States traces the way Chinese food came to the US, the reaction of European Americans to it, and how it evolved from a limited number of dishes from one particular region of China to a wide ra ...more
Sep 02, 2009 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Amazon review:

As an ethnic food -- okay, an *all* food -- buff, I've been wondering lately about what factors affect how quickly an immigrant population's cuisine is assimilated into their new culture. Chinese food is one of the most fully assimilated non-Western foods, and I've wondered if that's because of the length of time large numbers of Chinese have lived in the US, because of how adaptable Chinese cooks have been in catering to Western tastes,
Feb 17, 2010 Jesse rated it really liked it
Some fascinating stuff: Americans as far back as the 18th century peddled the story that Chinese people typically ate cats, dogs, and rats (Coe doesn't go into where this came from--did Europeans think this as well?), so the recycling of this stereotype in stories from, say, the Times in the 1880s was nothing new. He also points out that chop suey, though it quickly became a mishmosh fake-Chinese dish, probably did start from real Chinese ingredients despite the folklore surrounding it, and that ...more
Jul 11, 2015 Chloe rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-american
I absolutely adored this book. I'm Chinese-American from a community with more Asian people than white, but I never fully appreciated the access I had to top quality Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other food growing up where I did. It wasn't until I moved to college to an area full of culture but devoid of authentic Chinese food that I got a glimpse of what the majority of Americans saw as Chinese food, and it was a sad shock to my suddenly rice deficient self. Reading this book brought me ...more
Feb 03, 2012 Larissa rated it liked it
Shelves: china
1/25 - reading, Nook. There is a fair amount of history of early Sino-American relations. One fact of note is that early American traders did attempt to trade with the Chinese in such goods as sea cucumbers and birds' nests - both of which were Chinese delicacies and which commanded a good price. However, in the years prior to the Opium War, American traders turned to opium. It was more easily procured than sea cucumbers or birds' nests and also commanded a good price. Americans peddled opium!
Chinese food has been present in the U.S. for two centuries, but initially stereotypes were common (such as the consumption of rats) and early travelers to China were averse to eating even the most formal ceremonial meals. By the mid-1800s Chinese immigrants arrived because of the Gold Rush and to work on the railroads, and they were immediately subject to prejudice, including American revulsion towards their food. Eventually, the cultural elite of New York and other large cities developed an ...more
Roxanna Zea
Jan 06, 2015 Roxanna Zea rated it really liked it
A fascinating journey of how Americans came to start eating Chinese food and how Chinese food in America today evolved to local tastes to what it is today. There are fun stories about how Chop Suey came to be, debunking some myths about how popular "American Chinese" dishes were "invented". Surprisingly, the book also dived into the Chinese Exclusion Act (circa 1882 and not repealed until 1943) which effectively blocked Chinese immigration and naturalization - the first US law to bar a specific ...more
I really really enjoyed this book. It's a great history of the interaction between Americans and China, focused on food. Includes details of the first Americans to visit, right after the American Revolution up through Nixon's visit in 1972 (there is a mention of later interactions, but they take up less than a page). The focus is definitely on early history - late 18th and the 19th century. As well as immigration from China during these periods. It is an easy read, but fact-laden and the teeny ...more
Derek Anderson
Nov 06, 2011 Derek Anderson rated it liked it
Andrew Coe gives readers an expansive history of that soy sauce soaked food we all seem to crave so much: Chinese. Integrating a high number of citations from things like diaries, newspapers, television, and cookbooks, Coe certainly paints a vivid picture of food from the land of the rising sun. Historical events abroad and in the States are brought to life as Coe examines how cultural prejudice, racism, and a sense of adventure helped pin Chinese food at the top of takeout lists on American ...more
Nov 23, 2014 Derreck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating how such a old culture has changed so much as many times in the past 100 years

I've been to China 6 times in the past 4 years and what I have observed on my visits make so much more sense after reading this book. I do think that the western world has very little understanding of the complexity of the Chinese culture. Anyone that has a interest in China or plans on spending much time in China should add Chop Suey to there must read list. I found the 3rd and 4th chapter most enjoyable h
May 24, 2015 Julia rated it really liked it
Don't expect recipes or details about specific dishes. This is not a cookbook: it is history, and some of it unpleasant, dealing with the relationship between Americans and Chinese and its effect on what, how and why we eat Chinese food. You probably already know that Chinese food in this country is about as Chinese as American pizza is Italian and you may want to know where to get the real stuff: if that's your goal in reading this book, go elsewhere, because all they talk about is American ...more
Jan 29, 2011 Anthony rated it really liked it
An interesting look at the history of Chinese food and it's evolution in America. Note I said history - unlike Fortune Cookie Chronicles, another book about Chinese food in America, it focuses primarily on the history from the first US voyages to China to the early 1900's, with only a quick look at contemporary Chinese food and restaurants. It's readable, interesting, and informative, even if some of the author's focuses seem odd - he devotes a bunch of pages to Jewish attitudes to Chinese food, ...more
Dec 20, 2013 Silas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was a lot of interesting history in this book, though it ended up being rather a lot shorter than I had expected, and really glossed over the past... forty years or so. Still, it made interesting inroads into my understanding of world history, and on my understanding of different Chinese regional cuisines (and their American adaptations). I have read a few historical books about food, and this one did not disappoint. I would recommend it for a very general overview of American Chinese ...more
May 06, 2013 Julie rated it liked it
I liked how Coe tied in the history of Chinese and American relations, but as another reader noted in his review, I feel that he focused too heavily on some more minor topics and glossed over some rather meaty areas (aka the last chapter). I also felt the last few pages were a little off-putting -- his hurried conclusion simply lamented that Americans back then and now only want inauthentic, cheap Chinese food and that we're a bunch of uncultured swine. Not that that conclusion is totally ...more
Oct 17, 2012 Hannah rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this book at first but by the end I was counting the pages. What seems like an interesting concept (the history of Chinese-American food and the foreign relations of the two countries) ends up a bit unfocused and inconclusive. In the end I wasn't sure what point the author was trying to make, other than "traditional Chinese food has been adapted in many ways over time for the American palate"... Which surely doesn't warrant an entire book.
Sep 17, 2011 Alee rated it really liked it
It's actually a really detailed history of Chinese in America (as well as some pre-history into sino-anglo relations in China itself starting with early trade). When we went to Guangzhou with my sister when she adopted her 2nd one, we stayed in the Swan hotel which is right near the areas discussed in the first part of the book. The coverage is not lighthearted, though. This is a serious history book.
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More than 20 years of experience writing for such venues as Saveur, the Atlantic, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Gastronomica, Film Comment, and Serious Eats.

Author of numerous books on food, New York history, and Latin American travel including Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States and is a coauthor of Foie Gras: A Passion and has contributed to the Oxford Co
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“It is the Bohemian fad to expatriate himself, to seek strange and bizarre environments. As soon as a place begins to attract civilization he flees it for some new hiding place. When he chooses a Chinese dinner he must have a restaurant where no white man has ever before trod, if he can find one. . . . As soon as others begin to frequent it also, again he flies.27” 0 likes
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