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

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  525 ratings  ·  71 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 21, 2012 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 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.
Ronald Koltnow
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
From the first U.S. ship landing in Guangzhou in the 18th century to Nixon's dexterity with chopsticks, Andrew Cole traces the history of America's growing love of Chinese food. With a remarkable amount of research, Coe records how Chinese food was approached with fear, with prejudice, with acceptance, and finally with adoration. This short book is rich in anecdotes, most from the white man's perspective, about the strange smells and textures of the Celestial diet. The mythology of rat eating is ...more
Jonathan Hiskes
Dec 14, 2012 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.
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent. It’s not to feel aggrieved when you stepped into history though — racism is just fucking god damn repugnant.
Robert Beveridge
Aug 27, 2009 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
May 20, 2012 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.
Aaron Fung
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not what I expected - but still a solid read

Expected it to be more of a fact book on Chinese American food but this surprised me with a rich history of how Chinese cuisine has evolved throughout history. Well researched and informative!
Jana Perskie
Jan 17, 2012 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
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was really disappointed with this book, though in retrospect, I was probably expecting more than I should have.

This isn't really an exploration of "American Chinese food" so much as it is pages of:

1. Lists of ingredients
2. Lists of eras and places
3. Lists of quotes from people who don't describe the food
4. Lists of cultural injustices and prejudices
5. Lists of pop culture references to China or Chinese foods
6. Lists of restaurants

To be fair to the book, there is a large section in the middle d
Tri Le
This book gives an overview of the American experience with Chinese food, starting with the establishment of American-Chinese relations back in the late 1700s. Andrew Coe provides a deeper dive into the relationships between the two people while providing information on the origins of Chinese cuisine. However, I was expecting a bit more attention on the food rather than a lesson on American-Chinese relationships. Still, Chop Suey is a digestible and informative read. Would recommend for those in ...more
Jan 20, 2017 rated it liked it
A light, entertaining read that felt quick. Did the best he could with the limited sources available. Did tend to say the same things over and over again - but the same issues kept coming up (such as Chinese stereotypes about eating dogs and rats, "Chop Suey" vs. a broader palate of Chinese food, the need to make money vs. the need to be authentic, etc.)
May 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
More honest subtitle is “a white colonizer’s horrified account of Chinese food in the west”. Very racism and white supremacy neutral. But excellent examples of the history of white Americans’ othering of and implicit bias on Chinese (and Asians in general)
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Now to find a good Chinese restaurant. Still not easy.
Pretty good for a pop history.
Mar 09, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2020
What world does this guy live in??
May 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars.

Interesting, but I felt I learned more about the history of US-China relations and the Chinese immigrant experience than I did about the food.
Jun 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: top-shelf
A well-done and lively general overview of American-Chinese food. 3.5 / 5 stars.
T. W. Duncan
Nov 05, 2013 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 w ...more
May 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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 Ch ...more
Desiree Koh
Dec 09, 2015 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 tu ...more
Nov 13, 2014 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 mi
Aug 27, 2010 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
Aug 21, 2009 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 16, 2010 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
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 bac ...more
Jul 19, 2011 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 ap ...more
Bob Anderson
Oct 19, 2016 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 mo ...more
Feb 19, 2010 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
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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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Karen M. McManus, the bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying, Two Can Keep a Secret, and One of Us Is Next, doesn’t shy away from secrets and...
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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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