Saturday, September 5, 2009

What is Chop Suey in Cantonese again?

I often wonder at the similarity between the famous Chop Suey, a popular dish in American Chinese restaurants with our traditional chap chai; and thinking they must have originated from the same place in China and handed down through the early Chinese migrants to both countries.. Before I pour oil into the fire and have a go at it's origin, I would like to walk down memory lane of my first encounter with this famous American dish in Los Angeles Chinatown, twenty five years ago. This classic American Chinese stir fry vegetable dish in which meat, poultry or fish is often added or it may be vegetarian is thereby very much similar to our chap chai. The name chop suey refers to pieces of different meat and vegetables as in an English translation of the Mandarin tsa-sui,(杂碎) and the Cantonese tsap seui,. There are many who think that stir fry dishes like chop suey were actually first created in Toisan a rural region south China. Many early Chinese immigrants to the United States did come from that area. Although, there are various colorful stories about its origin, I always like to remind my guests of this version of the lore, whenever I served this dish at home. This bit of the lore about the origin of chop suey suggests that a Chinese-American cook was annoyed at the way restaurant customers were treating him. As a way of retaliating at the patrons who'd earned his ere, he cooked up scraps of food that were destined for the swill garbage bin. The patrons ended up enjoying the dish and asked for it on future visits without realizing it had been meant as a pay back from the cook. Incidentally, the Cantonese translation for swill is "sow suey".
Making chop suey is a great way to use up leftovers of meat, fish and poultry as well as an excess of fresh vegetables. There seems to be a glut of Chinese Cabbages in the market at the moment, we bought this Chinese cabbages at a dollar each! There is no better way to use up these cabbages before it goes to the swill.

Chap Chai Recipe:

50g Lily buds (Kim Chiam)
50g Dried Beancurd skin (tau kee)
20g Black Fungus
50g Mung Bean Vermicelli
50g Dried Chinese Mushroom (Shitake Mushroom)
500g Chinese Cabbage
100g Carrot (sliced)
60g Fermented Soya Bean Paste (Tau Cheo)
50g Garlic (chopped finely)
750ml Vegetable stock
3 Tbsp Oil
5g Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp Soya Sauce


Soak lily buds, dried beancurd skin, black fungus and Chinese Mushroom in water until softened.
Heat wok with oil and fry garlic until slightly brown, then add fermented soya bean paste
When garlic and fermented soya bean paste is fragrant, Add all the ingredients (except for the mung bean vermicelli), stir well and until vegetables softened. When bubbling, stir in the mung bean vermicelli and simmer for another15 minutes. Add water, thick black soya sauce and salt and stir for a while


  1. haha.. vegetarian nobody like is it?

  2. Hi BY,
    As a matter of fact, the recent vegetarian recipes are specially posted for an English friend who is a vegetarian.