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Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United Statesby Andrew Coe
Synopses & 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, telling its fascinating story for the first time.
It's a tale that moves from curiosity to disgust and then desire. From China, Coe's story travels to the American West, where Chinese immigrants drawn by the 1848 Gold Rush struggled against racism and culinary prejudice but still established restaurants and farms and imported an array of Asian ingredients. He traces the Chinese migration to the East Coast, highlighting that crucial moment when New York "Bohemians" discovered Chinese cuisine--and for better or worse, chop suey. Along the way, Coe shows how the peasant food of an obscure part of China came to dominate Chinese-American restaurants; unravels the truth of chop suey's origins; reveals why American Jews fell in love with egg rolls and chow mein; shows how President Nixon's 1972 trip to China opened our palates to a new range of cuisine; and explains why we still can't get dishes like those served in Beijing or Shanghai. The book also explores how American tastes have been shaped by our relationship with the outside world, and how we've relentlessly changed foreign foods to adapt to them our own deep-down conservative culinary preferences.
Andrew Coe's Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States is a fascinating tour of America's centuries-long appetite for Chinese food. Always illuminating, often exploding long-held culinary myths, this book opens a new window into defining what is American cuisine.
"According to food writer Coe, America's taste for Chinese tea goes back more than two centuries, and so does our confusion about the use of chopsticks. In this brief but ambitious volume, he chronicles the back-and-forth story of our relationship to the Middle Kingdom, its people and, above all, its food. Meals eaten by Americans in China in the early years of mercantilism and diplomacy (late 18th and early 19th century) were more European than Asian; the author dates the first record of an American eating indigenous Chinese food only to 1819. The gold rush and other expansionist projects brought thousands of Chinese to American soil along with their culture and their cuisine. Though xenophobia sometimes erupted as violent racism, public eating establishments in some cities began attracting the curious, and fads for such Westernized Chinese dishes as the eponymous stir-fry of the book's title swept urban populations. This short, dense history comes full circle with another American diplomatic mission: Nixon's historic 1972 banquet. Like its subject, the book is a little bit of a lot of different things at once — a solid and comprehensive sampling of a much larger topic. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Andrew Coe has written for Saveur, Gastronomica, and the New York Times, is a coauthor of Foie Gras: A Passion and has contributed to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. He has dined at Chinese restaurants around the world and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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