Chop suey is part of American Chinese cuisine, Canadian Chinese cuisine, and Indian Chinese cuisine. Filipinos also have their own version of chop suey. The typical Filipino-Chinese variation includes wood ear (also known as tenga ng daga in Tagalog; lit. ear of the rat), carrots and chayote along with the cabbage. Some may even include bell peppers and/or cauliflower.
There are various colorful stories about the origin of chop suey. It is alleged to have been invented by Chinese immigrant cooks working on the United States Transcontinental railway in the 19th century and has also been cited in New York City's Chinatown restaurants since the 1880s. Other sources say that the dish (and its name) was invented during Qing Dynasty premier Li Hongzhang's visit to the United States in 1896 by his chef, who tried to create a dish suitable for both Chinese and American palates: when reporters asked what food the premier was eating, his cook found it difficult to explain the dishes, and replied "mixed pieces". Davidson (1999) characterizes these stories as "culinary mythology", citing Anderson (1988), who traces it to a dish of Taishan, the homeland of many Chinese immigrants. Chop suey first appears in an American publication as early as 1898. In his popular book, The Gangs of New York (1927), Herbert Asbury attributes the Americanized version of the term to a San Francisco dishwasher, calling it a bastardized version of the Cantonese phrase tsap sui, meaning "odds and ends", "miscellaneous pieces", or more simply "hash".
Generally, however, the name "chop suey" or "shap sui in Cantonese, and "za sui", when used in Mandarin, has the somewhat different meaning of cooked animal offal or entrails. For example, in the classic novel Journey to the West (c. 1590), Sun Wukong tells a lion-monster in chapter 75: "When I passed through Guangzhou (Canton), I bought a pot for cooking za sui - so I'll savour your liver, entrails, and lungs."
Use of the word in its Western sense was unknown to the Chinese language in pre-modern times. During his exile in the United States, Liang Qichao, a Guangdong native, wrote in 1903 that there existed in the United States a food item called chop suey which was popularly served by Chinese restaurateurs, but which local Chinese people did not eat. The term "za sui" (杂碎) is found in newer Chinese-English dictionaries with both meanings listed - cooked entrails, and chop suey in the Western sense.
This dual meaning has meant that some Chinese restaurants in English-speaking countries label mixed entrails as "chop suey" on their English menus.
Edward Hopper memorialized the dish in his 1929 restaurant painting, "Chop Suey." Even earlier, in 1914, Chinese chop suey appeared in the mainstream American novel. Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis mentions the dish:
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