Written by Phin Upham
Chop Suey was like an idea more so than a dish for Americans. It was a term used to describe anything that one might put into a dish that was basically made of nothing at all. Dishes consisting of macaroni, ground beef and tomato could earn the name as well as any number of casseroles you’ve heard or read about it.
Even desserts could claim the name Chop Suey. The term supposedly grew out of the Great Depression, where it was common to take this approach to cooking. Dishes that used foreign ingredients adopted similarly foreign sounding monikers, like hodgepodge or goulash. While these other dishes still have the loose meaning of “whatever one has on hand,” Chop Suey found a distinct ingredients list. It came to refer to either a stew or a casserole consisting of macaroni and beef with a bit of celery thrown in. None of these things are themselves distinctly Chinese, but the dish adopted a Chinese moniker and became a favorite at Chinese restaurants.
A popular variation in the army used either beef round or pork shoulder with barbecue sauce. It was a recipe also preached as an economic method of cooking.
Chop Suey was buster Keaton’s favorite dish. His dish called for lean pork cut into cubes with some Chinese ingredients like water chestnuts and Chiense veggies. It also called for a whole roast chicken cut into slices and feeds eight people. Still, the meat content of the dish was consistent with American food standards of the time.