The Many Origin Stories of Chop Suey

A takeout classic, chop suey is often claimed to be a Chinese American invention — but is it?


Chop suey is a dish you'll see on almost any Chinese takeout menu—but that doesn't mean it comes from China. According to culinary legend, the dish of stir-fried meat, egg, and vegetables was invented on August 29, 1896, in New York City. Li Hongzhang, a diplomat from China, was visiting the city and hosting American guests for dinner. Rather than risk preparing authentic Chinese food for them, Hongzhang asked his personal chef to invent a dish that would appeal to both Chinese and American palates. Chop suey was born. Or was it?

Like many other classic dishes, the origin story of chop suey appears in several variations. Another is that one of the first Chinese restaurants to open in San Francisco during the Gold Rush was the site of chop suey's invention. The story goes that one night in 1849, a group of drunk miners piled into Macao and Woosung restaurant. They were hungry. They called out for food. The owner was tired and ready to close up, so instead of whipping up dishes from scratch, he mixed together scraps of food from previous customers' plates and served it to the miners. They loved it. And like that, chop suey was invented. Maybe.

The most likely story: according to anthropologist E.N. Anderson, Chinese American restaurateurs based their chop suey recipes on tsap seui, a Cantonese dish that translates to "miscellaneous leftovers."

Whatever the truth may be, now is as good a time as any to indulge in some Chinese American takeout.

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