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.
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.
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.