Saturday, August 22, 2009

Andrew Coe

From Chantal Martineau's interview with Andrew Coe about his new book, A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States:

The dish that the book gets its title from is hardly still served anywhere in the various Chinatowns of New York. Why did it become so popular in the first place?

Chop suey perfectly fit the tastes of Americans from the 1890s on. First of all, the dish was filling and cheap--you could buy a bowl for 30 cents. It was flavorsome, satisfying Americans' tastes for rich meat and vegetable stews. Chop suey was exotic.

The United States was then stepping out from the shadow of England, beginning to exert its might around the world. At the same time, foreign immigrants were pouring into this country. Nothing could show that you were up-to-the-minute and worldly-wise like stepping out to the local Chinese restaurant for a late-night bowl of chop suey. And it was safe. Catering to their customers, Chinese chefs removed everything weird and imported from the dish, changing it from an earthy stir-fry to a bland, soggy, and overcooked stew.

When early Americans first tried Chinese food, they were disgusted, but still kept trying it. What do you think that says about us?

We've always been fascinated with weird...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue