The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

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    Fortune Cookie Chronicles quoted on Chop Suey in the New Yorker Online

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 12, 2008

    A few people had passed me this little item by Andrea Thompson that ran on the New Yorker’s web site on chop suey a few weeks ago, where my book is mentioned and quoted. Exciting.

    Born in the U.S.A.

    In this week’s Tables for Two, Ligaya Mishan reviews Chop Suey, whose tongue-in-cheek name has little to do with the actual menu: it’s not Chinese, and the eponymous dish isn’t served here. But perhaps the restaurant, with its amalgam of Korean, French, and American influences, is aptly named after all. “Chop suey,” according to Jennifer 8. Lee in her new book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,” means “odds and ends,” and most likely came about as a way to offer Americans familiar ingredients dressed up as novelty.
    As Lee finds out, there are several origin myths: it was first served at a banquet for a Chinese diplomat; it began when a group of drunks demanding food after hours were served a dish made of kitchen scraps; it was the calculated creation of a Chinese cook whose boss asked for something that “would pass as Chinese and gratify the public craze.” In a Talk of the Town piece published in 1972, the author, Victor Chen, describes its beginnings thus:

    Chop suey originated in a legendary California mining camp, where a legendary Chinese cook found himself shorthanded one day and made do by giving his Occidental customers a mishmash of whatever was lying around. When asked what the dish was called, the man said “chop suey” (or, in Mandarin, tsa sui), which can be translated as “miscellaneous broken pieces.” There is no such dish in China as tsa sui.

    The American taste for chop suey has waned, but the dish lives on. Lee writes:

    Chop suey, I discovered, has become an American export. I have found it in Japan, Korea, Jamaica, Guyana, and the Caribbean. In India, “American chop suey” (often made with ketchup!) remains one of the most popular dishes on Chinese menus, a stalwart just across the border from China. In Los Angeles, a Chicano girl who worked at Avis confided to me that her family would sometimes drive four hours to Mexicali, the Chinese-restaurant capital of Mexico, to have chop suey. She added, “You can’t get it in the same way in the United States.”


    —Andrea Thompson


    Topics: Chop Suey, Media & Interviews | No Comments »

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