File Size: 2983 KB
Print Length: 319 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: B004NSVFF4
Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 16, 2009)
Publication Date: July 16, 2009
Sold by: Digital Services LLC
X-Ray: Not Enabled
Word Wise: Enabled
Lending: Not Enabled
Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
Best Sellers Rank: #273,411 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store) #40 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Regional & International > Asian > Chinese #64 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Historical Study > Social History > Race & Ethnicity #112 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Gastronomy > History
I have often been told that if you have not traveled to China, then (as an American) you have never eaten Chinese food. I expected Chop Suey to be a foodie book about the evolution of the way food is prepared in China to the way it is served in our Chinese eateries. Chop Suey bills itself as "A Cultural History Of Chinese Food In The United States". It's really more of a history of how America has viewed the Chinese. It is not until a hundred pages or so in that the details of Chinese cuisine come into play. Prior to that, the book is a history of the China / American trade and a limited look at propaganda produced from those early voyages. There is a report here or there about the Americans being offered a meal they could not appreciate, but the primary focus is on the bigotry between the two.From that point Chop Suey moves into the exploitation of early Chinese immigrants, the extreme racism they faced, and how they tried to hold on to their culture and cuisine in the face of it. Along the way many found jobs as cooks or opened fast food counters trying to prepare a food that met the expectations and tastes of their customers. Since those expectations were rooted in post colonial bias, the food that resulted bore little relation to what the Chinese ate at home. Moving into kosher Chinese food and eventually to Nixon's visit to China, Chop Suey continues to be a history of Chinese American relations with food as the tie and excuse for the journey. The murder of a young woman has little bearing on Chinese food as we know it, but such side trips relate to what seems to have been the author's real intention, exposing how racism kept our palates from a true cultural exchange.There is a wealth of information in Chop Suey.
I have to admit that from the cover I expected a fluffy but entertaining book in the style of _Eat My Globe_ but I actually got a lot more than that. This is a fact dense book, well researched.The book opens with the new country of America sending its first ambassador (actually a merchant, which is very apropos on both sides) to China. It then diverges into a brief history of Chinese food in China - and Coe does a marvelous job of editing here, considering it's over 10,000 years of history and at least four major regions, each with their own sub-regions with their own culinary traditions.Then back to the US, where Chinese restaurants arrived in the 1850s to feed all the Chinese people who'd come over looking for the mountains of gold. Americans never really developed a taste for the food till the 1900s, at which point it had become bland and homogenized enough to appeal to our whitebread tastes. Finally we go through the Jewish-Chinese food boom, the revitalization after WW2, Nixon's re-opening of China, and the state we're in today. The book ends with the happy yet sad state of affairs that you can get real Chinese food in the US if you know where to look, but most of it is still neutered to what we find acceptable - but we do that to all cuisines.Unfortunately the history of Chinese people in the US is also the history of racism, so you will feel very uncomfortable about some of the quoted newspaper articles and accounts which are sprinkled with racial slurs and provincial attitudes - and not just about Chinese. Coe commendably reprints these without any squeamishness, as they're crucial to understanding American attitudes towards China.
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