The chop suey kitchens of the American west are slowly disappearing,

replaced by more modern-styled eateries, whether fast food or more up-scale Chinese. They date to the days of the Old West, when foreign labor was needed, and so were cooks to feed them. One thing Chinese can do is cook, and do it fast. The menus are not only a relic of the past, but are almost identical in every place, from Northwest to Southwest. Most of the remaining original locations are in small towns, particularly those served by railroad. They are even quite numerous in Latin America, with some linguistic crossover. Fried rice in Spanish America is frequently arroz chaufa rather than arroz frito, chaufa itself being a corruption of the Chinese term for ‘fried rice’, so slightly redundant but quaint. In South America, Chinese restaurants are universally known as chifas, a corruption of the Chinese term for ‘eat rice’. Indonesia even gets in on the act. Some well-known ‘Indonesian’ dishes are cap cay (pronounced ‘chop chai’) and fu yung hai, essentially Asian versions of chop suey and egg fu yung, using a sweet and sour sauce instead of the more American-style brown gravy. In all of these places, Chinese people themselves remain essentially unmixed with the original inhabitants. In Thailand, where they are mixed, these phenomena are unknown, as they are in China itself. In Thailand an omelet is called kai jieow, simply a fritata, like a Spanish tortilla, not to be confused with a Mexican tortilla. Got it? Archaeological evidence has led some theorists to conclude that food was first cooked some ten thousand years ago in what is now Southern China. Could be. Those people were likely the progenitors of both modern Tai and Cantonese.

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