Chow Chop Suey

Food and the Chinese American Journey

Anne Mendelson

Columbia University Press

Chow Chop Suey

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Pub Date: November 2016

ISBN: 9780231158602

352 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00

Pub Date: November 2016

ISBN: 9780231541299

352 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99

Chow Chop Suey

Food and the Chinese American Journey

Anne Mendelson

Columbia University Press

Chinese food first became popular in America under the shadow of violence against Chinese aliens, a despised racial minority ineligible for United States citizenship. The founding of late-nineteenth-century "chop suey" restaurants that pitched an altered version of Cantonese cuisine to white patrons despite a virulently anti-Chinese climate is one of several pivotal events in Anne Mendelson's thoughtful history of American Chinese food. Chow Chop Suey uses cooking to trace different stages of the Chinese community's footing in the larger white society.

Mendelson begins with the arrival of men from the poorest district of Canton Province during the Gold Rush. She describes the formation of American Chinatowns and examines the curious racial dynamic underlying the purposeful invention of hybridized Chinese American food, historically prepared by Cantonese-descended cooks for whites incapable of grasping Chinese culinary principles. Mendelson then follows the eventual abolition of anti-Chinese immigration laws and the many demographic changes that transformed the face of Chinese cooking in America during and after the Cold War. Mendelson concludes with the post-1965 arrival of Chinese immigrants from Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and many regions of mainland China. As she shows, they have immeasurably enriched Chinese cooking in America but tend to form comparatively self-sufficient enclaves in which they, unlike their predecessors, are not dependent on cooking for a white clientele.
Chow Chop Suey is an eye-opener, a book that will give everyone a deep appreciation of the exquisite skill required to produce authentic Chinese food and the sweep of history that brought Chinese cooking to America. Anne Mendelson's prodigious research has given us a highly respectful, insightful, refreshing, wonderfully written, and utterly compelling account of the role and plight of Chinese restaurant workers in this country. I learned something new on every page. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of Soda Politics
Well-written and impeccably researched, Chow Chop Suey is a beautiful ode both to the history of Chinese Americans and the intriguing ways in which China's rich food culture continues to take root here and flourish. Anne Mendelson's section on Chinese American cookbook writers is nothing less than a classic, for she brings sense and order to a long overlooked field with her customary clear perspective and dry wit. Mendelson is one of my favorite food writers and I'd expect nothing less, but this time she's outdone herself. Carolyn Phillips, author of All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China and The Dim Sum Field Guide
There are other accounts of the American enthusiasm for Chinese food and the simultaneous persecution of Chinese immigrants. What makes Anne Mendelson's Chow Chop Suey unique is how it integrates cooking styles with American and Chinese cultural contrasts. Mendelson never loses sight of the food and how Chinese restaurants and American "experts" of various sorts shaped a cuisine that was both exotic and irresistible. No one has discussed in such a fascinating and authoritative way the American misunderstanding of basic Chinese culinary principles, the importance of a few key cookbooks and restaurants, and the gradual awakening of American palates to something resembling actual Chinese food in the postwar decades. Fun to read, judicious, and above all authoritative. Paul Freedman, author of Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination
Chow Chop Suey is a well-written and insightful guide to the Chinese food scene in America. In a field full of myths, Anne Mendelson's book is accurate and detailed. A delightful read! Eugene N. Anderson, author of, Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China
Anne Mendelson brings together political and culinary history, showing that it was by inventing quasi-Chinese dishes that titillated American palates that Cantonese immigrants found a way to survive anti-Asia persecution. Gripping, authoritative, and timely. Rachel Laudan, author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History
A deeply researched look at the history of Chinese food in the U.S. I'll be dipping into it for years. Wall Street Journal
A timely and nuanced reminder that Chinese-American identity has long been conflated with Chinese food. Peter Ho Davies, Times Literary Supplement
Anne Mendelson writes like the engaged scholar she is, with dry wit and easy, uncompromising erudition.... [Chow Chop Suey] is full of wonder. New York Times
A solid choice for readers interested in Chinese immigration and U.S.-China history, as well as those curious about American foodways and culinary culture. Library Journal
Acknowledgments
A Note on Romanization and Terminology
Introduction
Prologue: A Stroke of the Pen
Part I
1. Origins: The Toisan–California Pipeline
2. The Culinary "Language" Barrier
3. "Celestials" on Gold Mountain
4. The Road to Chinatown
Part II
5. The Birth of Chinese American Cuisine
6. Change, Interchange, and the First Successful "Translators"
7. White America Rediscovers Chinese Cuisine
8. An Advancement of Learning
9. The First Age of Race-Blind Immigration
Postscript: What Might Have Been
Notes
Glossary
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Anne Mendelson is a culinary historian and freelance writer specializing in food-related subjects. She has worked as editorial consultant and collaborator on several cookbooks and has contributed entries to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (2005). She is the author of Milk (2008) and Stand Facing the Stove (1996).