In 1784, passengers on the ship Empress of China became the first Americans to land in China, and the first to eat Chinese food. Today there are over 40,000 Chinese restaurants across the United States: by far the most plentiful among all our ethnic eateries.
Andrew Coe provides the history of this American infatuation through his James Beard-nominated book, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States.
It's a tale that moves from curiosity to disgust and then desire. From China, Andrew's story travels to the American West, where Chinese immigrants, drawn by the 1848 Gold Rush, struggled against racism and culinary prejudice but still established restaurants and farms and imported an array of Asian ingredients. Andrew shows us how the peasant food of an obscure part of China came to dominate Chinese-American restaurants; unravels the truth of chop suey's origins; reveals why American Jews fell in love with egg rolls and chow mein; shows how President Nixon's 1972 trip to China opened our palates to a new range of cuisine; and explains why we still can't get dishes like those served in Beijing or Shanghai.
A food writer with a particular passion for Chinese cuisine, Andrew has dined in Chinese restaurants around the world. He has written for Saveur, Gastronomica, and the New York Times. He is co author of Foie Gras: A Passion, and he has contributed to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Andrew lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Recorded Saturday, May 22, 2010 at Chicago History Museum.