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What is Chop Suey?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

Chop suey is a classic Chinese-American stir fry vegetable dish. Meat, poultry or fish is often added or it may be vegetarian. The name chop suey refers to pieces of different foods and is the English translation of the Mandarin tsa-sui, and the Cantonese tsap seui.

The exact origin of this dish is widely disputed. One popular theory is that a Chinese-American cook or waiter in San Francisco in 1878 invented the dish for a visiting Chinese dignitary. All the restaurant had was leftovers and small amounts of different foods, so he was said to have just chopped up bits of assorted foods to create a large dish.

A bowl of chop suey.
A bowl of chop suey.

Another theory suggests that a Chinese-American cook was annoyed at the way restaurant customers were treating him. As a way of retaliating, he cooked up scraps of food that was meant for the garbage. The patrons ended up enjoying the dish and asked for it on future visits without realizing it had been meant as an insult. Some people think that stir fry dishes like chop suey were actually first created in China, near Canton. Many early Chinese immigrants to the United States did come from the Canton part of China.

Chop suey with seafood.
Chop suey with seafood.

Bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and/or water chestnuts are usually a part of chop suey. Mushrooms, onions, cabbage, celery, and bell peppers are other vegetables that may be used in the dish. Pork or beef are the most common of the meats used. Shrimp or chicken chop suey is also popular, and vegetarian versions are common.

Soy sauce is typically added to other ingredients to make a medium-thick sauce for the chop suey. The dish is then eaten over steamed rice. Some people prefer deep-fried noodles rather than rice. Although chop suey is easier to make in a wok, a frying pan can also be used. Making chop suey is a great way to use up leftovers of meat, fish and poultry as well as an excess of fresh vegetables.

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Discussion Comments


@donasmrs-- Chop suey means "in pieces."

There are different stories about how chop suey originated. But one thing is for sure-- it's American. There is no such thing as chop suey in China.

Whether the dish was made up by an American or a Chinese, it was certainly made for the American palate. It is an Americanized Chinese dish and it was one of the first Chinese foods that became popular among Americans who started dining in Chinese populated areas in cities.


What is chop suey meaning? What does each word mean in English?


I'm no expert on Chinese food but I have a Chinese roommate who cooks every day. From what I've learned from her cooking, Chinese cuisine generally entails combining different kinds of ingredients together. I rarely see a Chinese dish that isn't a combination of vegetable and meat.

So I doubt that chop suey was created to insult customers. It's a dish that represents Chinese cuisine well I think.

If anyone disagrees with me though, I'd love to hear your point of view as well.


It seems that I always have too much celery, because I have to buy it by the bag rather than by the stalk. I came up with my own chop suey dish to help me use up the celery before it went bad.

I had some frozen flounder filets that I had tried baking before with dill and butter, but they just hadn't tasted great that way. I decided to saute them with celery, onions, and water chestnuts instead, and the result ended up becoming one of my favorite dishes.

Something about the potency of the celery and the unique flavor of the flounder went so well together. The onions brought their own distinct character to the dish, and the water chestnuts provided extra crunch.


I use tilapia in my chop suey. I like for it to have some heat, so I sprinkle the fish with chili powder and ginger before cooking it.

I boil some egg noodles in water while the fish is cooking in a wok with sliced zucchini, soy sauce, and a bit of butter. When the noodles are ready, I toss them in with the fish and sauce.

I like to make chop suey when company is coming. It is a great and cheap way to serve several guests at once.


@StarJo – I agree with you about the bean sprouts. I make a delicious chicken chop suey, and I don't add rice or noodles.

The sauce is what makes it so good. I use teriyaki sauce, orange marmalade, and ginger for it.

I chop the chicken into slivers and marinate it in the sauce before cooking it. Once the chicken is done, I add a can of bean sprouts and some red bell pepper. I pour the extra sauce into the wok and let it all soak in and heat through.


I think that if you use bean sprouts in your chop suey, you don't really need noodles or rice. To me, bean sprouts have the consistency of noodles, and adding more would just be redundant.

However, bean sprouts can be hard on some people's gastrointestinal system. My husband cannot eat many of them without getting cramps and painful gas, so I only make chop suey when he is away on business.

I love a combination of several foods in one pot. A cook could never insult me by mixing random food together.


@peasy--I know that in our local Chinese restaurant they use fresh ginger root and soy. They also tend to use salt, but I leave that out because of the health reasons when having too much salt in your diet.


Thanks for the information on chop suey, you just helped me win a bet for a Chinese dinner! A friend of mine calls the Chinese noodle dishes chop suey. I did not realize the dish was created here in the states.

Does anyone know what kind of spices are in chop suey?

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    • A bowl of chop suey.
      By: pixphoto
      A bowl of chop suey.
    • Chop suey with seafood.
      By: uckyo
      Chop suey with seafood.
    • Bean sprouts, one of the ingredients in chop suey.
      By: rafcha
      Bean sprouts, one of the ingredients in chop suey.
    • Shiitake mushrooms are a common ingredient in chop suey.
      By: Chris leachman
      Shiitake mushrooms are a common ingredient in chop suey.
    • Chop suey may be eaten over steamed rice.
      By: Viktor Lugovskoy
      Chop suey may be eaten over steamed rice.
    • Bamboo shoots may be used to make chop suey.
      By: Bert Folsom
      Bamboo shoots may be used to make chop suey.
    • Celery is often added to chop suey.
      By: andersphoto
      Celery is often added to chop suey.