Today is National Chop Suey Day. It honors the popular Chinese-American dish of uncertain provenance.
Legends abound regarding the origin of chop suey. Some say it was invented in the 1860s by a Chinese cook in San Franciso who, fearing he would be beaten by a rowdy bunch of miners demanding food after hours, served them a stir-fry made of leftovers.
Others claim the dish was created in 1896 for Qing Dynasty statesman Li Hongzhang (romanized name: Li Hung Chang) when he visited the U.S. and, disliking a banquet’s offerings, had one of his chefs go into the kitchen and prepare something from the ingredients he found there. This myth was perpetuated by the publication in 1913 of Memoirs of Li Hung Chang, which was exposed as a forgery ten years later.
Chinese history shows that chop suey has roots there under various names: za sui in Mandarin and shap sui or tsap tsui in Cantonese, which translate to “mixed bits.” The recipe seems to have originated with residents of the Taishan, (also known as Taisan or Toisan) area of Canton, many of whom immigrated to the U.S.
It was originally composed of entrails such as chicken livers, gizzards and tripe mixed with bamboo shoots, fungi and bean sprouts in a brown sauce. Chinese cooks later adapted these ingredients for American tastes
by replacing organ meats with the chicken, pork, beef or shrimp.
Today is a great day to set aside the debate about who deserves credit and order chop suey or break out the wok and stir-fry a batch. After all, General Tso had nothing to do with the chicken dish that bears his name, but that doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying it.
Happy National Chop Suey Day!