American diners began to flock to Chinese restaurants more than a century ago, making Chinese food the first mass-produced cuisine in the United States. By 1980, it had become the country’s most popular ethnic cuisine. Chop Suey, USA – The Story of Chinese Food in America by Professor Yong Chen offers the first comprehensive interpretation of the rise of Chinese food, revealing the forces that made it ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape and turned the country into an empire of consumption.
“Engineered by a politically disenfranchised, numerically small, and economically exploited group, Chinese food’s tour de America is an epic story of global cultural encounter. It reflects not only changes in taste but also a growing appetite for a more leisurely lifestyle. Americans fell in love with Chinese food not because of its gastronomic excellence but because of its affordability and convenience. This explains why Americans preferred the quick and simple dishes of China while shunning its haute cuisine. Epitomized by chop suey, American Chinese food was a forerunner of McDonald’s, democratizing the once-exclusive dining-out experience for such groups as marginalized Anglos, African Americans, and Jews.”
A nice extra included in the book are recipes for a number of Chinese dishes particularly popular in America.
Chop Suey, USA just received honorable mention in the 2015 PROSE Awards in the category of American History.
Our guest, Yong Chen, raised by his food-loving mother in China, is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine.