cover image Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States

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

Andrew Coe, . . Oxford Univ., $24.95 (303pp) ISBN 978-0-19-533107-3

According to food writer Coe, America's taste for Chinese tea goes back more than two centuries, and so does our confusion about the use of chopsticks. In this brief but ambitious volume, he chronicles the back-and-forth story of our relationship to the Middle Kingdom, its people and, above all, its food. Meals eaten by Americans in China in the early years of mercantilism and diplomacy (late 18th and early 19th century) were more European than Asian; the author dates the first record of an American eating indigenous Chinese food only to 1819. The gold rush and other expansionist projects brought thousands of Chinese to American soil along with their culture and their cuisine. Though xenophobia sometimes erupted as violent racism, public eating establishments in some cities began attracting the curious, and fads for such Westernized Chinese dishes as the eponymous stir-fry of the book's title swept urban populations. This short, dense history comes full circle with another American diplomatic mission: Nixon's historic 1972 banquet. Like its subject, the book is a little bit of a lot of different things at once—a solid and comprehensive sampling of a much larger topic. (July)