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While these bohemians helped launch the chop suey craze, Chen reports, they were too few in number to fuel a sustained trend. Police crackdowns in the late s and early s largely eliminated them. The Chinese found a more stable customer base, Chen argues, in the African American community. With limited incomes and facing discrimination in many restaurants run by whites, Chinese restaurants were one of the few places that African Americans could afford and in which they could feel welcomed.

The other stable clientele for Chinese food were Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.

The Exchange: Chop Suey

Apart from the Chinese reliance on pork and shellfish, there were many similarities between Chinese and Jewish food. Neither cuisine mixed meat with milk. Chinese restaurants were open Sundays and Christmas Day and they displayed no Christian iconography or anti-Semitic antagonism. In Chinese restaurants, eastern European Jews could feel like Americans. The three final chapters address related but somewhat distinct issues.

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Why did Americans fall in love with the simple and inexpensive Chinese dishes like chop suey while rejecting Chinese haute cuisine? In support of this argument, he quotes numerous non-Chinese for whom the most notable feature of Chinese food was its low price.

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Their choices came to define the image of Chinese American food for the society at large. Chinese cookbooks began appearing in large numbers, especially after World War II. This will change only if the Chinese economy continues to grow and Chinese workers become highly paid. Then, perhaps, When organized labor came to view the Chinese as a threat to its high wages, it mobilized and ousted them. It is true that in the West the Chinese were driven out of many towns and even cities, but in the East, Midwest, and South the Chinese moved into communities without Chinatowns to open laundries and restaurants.


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For President Calvin Coolidge, it was such a favorite that he employed a Chinese chef to cook it for him on the presidential yacht. Middle-class moms made it for their families. Everyone ate chop suey.

Chop Suey, USA

Chen seems not to appreciate how few Chinese were living in the United States when Chinese food began changing the way Americans ate. If every Chinese American man, woman, and child had worked in the service sector they would have comprised less than 3 percent of that workforce. Chen also misstates the relative growth rates of the Chinese and American economies. While the American economy did grow at the healthy average annual rate of 4. Whereas the American growth rate boosted real output to 3.

This is just wrong.

More appealing is the personal story that motivates and enlivens the narrative. It is seasoned with interesting recipes, most of them chosen for their personal significance.


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    Citation: Susan B. This is made abundantly clear in this fascinating account of the history of Chinese food in America. Gordon H. Chang, Stanford University A perceptive view of an America built on abundance and consumption H-Environment Chop Suey is an engaging combination of research and food writing blended into a unified read.

    Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States by Andrew Coe

    Yong Chen has published an ambitious and important work that has made a curcial contribution not only to the historical understanding of Chinese cuisine in the United States but also to the study of food in general. Journal of Chinese Overseas Chop Suey, USA was meticulously researched with a very extensive bibliography, the content is well organized with linking points and arguments, and the text is written with clarity and purpose. Alfred Yee, Journal of American History A compelling and provocative contribution to the burgeoning field of American food studies. Journal of American Ethnic History Chen's study provides a sharp critique and rebuke to the degraded status accorded to Chinese American food and its creators.

    American Quarterly. The Empire and Empire Food 3.

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    Chinese Cooks as Stewards of Empire 4. The Cradle of Chinese Food 5. The Rise of Chinese Restaurants 6. The Makers of American Chinese Food 7. Notes Bibliography Index. About the Author Yong Chen, raised by his food-loving mother in China, is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and served as the institution's associate dean of graduate studies.

    He co-curated a museum exhibit on the history of Chinese restaurants in the United States, and his commentaries on food, immigration, and Sino-American relations appear frequently in the media in four languages.