Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Culinary Mythology: Chop Suey

I had heard this but never seen anything definitive until reading about it in this book.
Various legends have been current. They agree in supposing that a Chinese cook (usually in California), confronted by a demand from exigent diners for food at an hour when everything on the menu was "off," improvised a mixture from leftovers and said that the dish was called Chop Suey, meaning "odds and ends" in Chinese. The identity of the demanding diners varies (in a manner typical of mythology): drunken miners, a San Francisco political boss, railroad workers, a visiting Chinese dignitary, etc.

Anderson (1988) gives the true explanation. Chop suey is a local Toisanese dish. Toisan is a rural district south of Canton, the home for most of the early immigrants from Guangdong to California. The name is Cantonese tsap seui (Mandarin tsa sui), meaning "miscellaneous scraps."

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