Wong Chin Foo was the first Chinese immigrant to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was a prominent author and wrote an article for the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper in 1884. He describes Chop Suey as the ‘national dish of China’.
Liang Qichao was a Chinese intellectual and progressive reformist. After spending time in Canada and the United states in 1903, he wrote about a food item called Chop Suey which was served in Chinese restaurants but was not eaten by Chinese people because of the really awful cooking technique!
The earliest written account of Chop Suey, however, dates to 1590. Journey to the West is a classic novel in China and the character tells a vicious lion monster that he has brought a pot for cooking ‘za sui’ and will savor the lion’s liver!
All this information just to introduce a popular food from my favorite vintage period … Chop Suey … right from a 1950s La Choy can! The 1920s Chop Suey craze in the United States prompted the creation of the La Choy company. Its founding is an interesting story, but a topic for a different post! Check it out right here!
It was the convenience of the canned products like bean sprouts, water chestnuts or all the Chop Suey vegetables together … that made the dish so popular with mid-century home cooks. It was popular for 20 years, but eventually lost its place to freshly prepared Chinese dishes. Early TV chefs started teaching us how to prepare things like Sweet and Sour Chicken and Peking Duck! We discovered woks and realized that stir-fried vegetables were healthy for us, so the trend died out.