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Is Chop Suey Chinese Food?


No self respecting Chinese person would eat at a “Chinese” restaurant that is mainly populated by white folk, lest they want to risk being smote by their ancestors.  It also doesn’t help that they serve chop suey, egg foo yung, sweet and sour pork, General Tso’s chicken, and other crap that Chinese and discerning non-Chinese alike turn their nose up at.  “Only the unrefined would think this is Chinese food and actually enjoy it,” seems to be the predominant attitude.

To their credit, chop suey is decidedly not Chinese.  Although their is some mystery surrounding the origin of the dish, it is largely only served in North America and virtually unknown in China.  The name “chop suey” literally means “odds and ends”.  When I think of chop suey, I think of Ah Fook and Ah Yiu laughing in the kitchen, as they serve the crappy bits to their “foreigner” patrons who happily gobble it down and ask for more.

But is there more to this humble, yet widely popular dish?


We can think of “authentic” Chinese cooking as a set of dishes that “real” Chinese people eat, but the problem with that is dishes and flavours are constantly evolving.  What gets included and what does not?  To me, it is not the ingredients, recipes and methods that define Chinese cooking, but the approach and attitude.  Chinese have a long cultural history of taking food very seriously.  Much emphasis is placed not only on flavour, but also on health and symbolic value.

In difficult times, Chinese cleverness and ingenuity have sparked numerous new dishes that have become staples.  Real Chinese food is not stuck up in its ways, but is able to be resourceful and to adapt.  The popularity of “Chinese and American Food” type restaurants is a testament to that.  The dishes we think of as authentic — pork dumplings, steamed buns, egg noodles, etc. — did not exist at one point.  They had to be invented either out of dedication to the art or out of necessity.

Chop suey is just an extension of that tradition.  Sure, it may not make the greatest impact on the tongue, but with the right attitude, can have a great impact on the heart, which is what I think great food aims to do.

Now I’m gonna go eat me some white Chinese food, gonna enjoy it, and I don’t care what y’all think.

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