Chop suey’s next wave

The New York Times and UC’s Global Food Initiative look into the evolution of America’s favorite ethnic food

University of California, Irvine history professor Yong Chen recently took Mark Bittman, a New York Times food writer, on a gastronomical journey through the evolution of Los Angeles’ Chinatown and Chinese food in California.

Their video tour, which ended at a trendy Taiwanese-styled eatery in Irvine, is part of The New York Times’ California Matters series, which is produced in collaboration with UC’s Global Food Initiative.

Bittman, who calls Chinese food “one of the most beloved cuisines in America,” reports there are 40,000 eateries in the nation serving up chop suey, fried rice and authentic Asian dishes. That’s more than the number of McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC outlets combined.

And who better to lead Bittman on this tour but Chen, whose recent book, Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, opens with a question: Why is Chinese food so popular in the United States?

“Americans fell in love with Chinese food not because of its gastronomic excellence, but because of its affordability and convenience,” Chen said. “They preferred the quick and simple dishes of China while shunning its haute cuisine.”

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