Chop suey, a thoroughly American dish, can be made a bit healthier

  • Chop Suey with all the flavor or this truly American dish, with less fat, sugar and sodium.

    Chop Suey with all the flavor or this truly American dish, with less fat, sugar and sodium. Courtesy of Don Mauer

Updated 7/24/2019 6:18 AM

Chop suey is not authentic Asian cuisine. You could search high and low across Asia and not find anyone making a chop suey as we know it.

Chop suey's history is varied and uncertain. Generally, chop suey began to appear around 1880, and there's some mythology about that.


The story goes that about 1896, a Chinese statesman Li Hung Chang was visiting the US and, unhappy with a meal, had his chefs prepare a dish using ingredients at hand. An anthropologist debunked that tale by saying chop suey was served in the US well before that date.

There's another story about drunken miners in San Francisco demanding a meal late at night in a Chinese restaurant. Supposedly, the chef threw-together odds and ends and called it, in Chinese: "chou tsap sui," which apparently translates as "stir-fried mixed bits." It also appears to have been called "shap hwui."

The definitive history of chop suey appeared in Andrew Cole's Fall 2017 American Heritage magazine article titled: "Mixed Bits: The True History of Chop Suey" (

My introduction to chop suey was the version that came from an Evanston restaurant, a few blocks from our home, named Joy Fun on Central Street.

Oddly, Grandmother Mauer also made her version of chop suey, which was strikingly similar to the local restaurant version.

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I'm not sure from where my recent desire to have chop suey came, but it came on strong. I appreciate the qualities of authentic Asian cuisines and haven't had chop suey in years; possibly decades.

I looked up chop suey recipes and found loads of them. I settled on one that I could alter in ways I believed would make it similar to the chop suey I remembered from years ago.

I had to do some shopping, though, since I didn't keep mung bean sprouts or canned bamboo shoots on hand. Potato starch instead of corn starch has been my go-to thickener in the Asian dishes I've been creating in the past year. It has a less viscous texture and a more neutral flavor.

I already had organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs on hand, so that was no issue. Since I frequently cook Asian dishes, I also had dark soy sauce in my pantry. Dark soy sauce is thicker and stronger than regular soy sauce and has had molasses or caramel added as part of the mixture, which makes it sweeter. I made up my version, here using regular low-sodium soy sauce, molasses and some stevia. Spoiler alert: it worked great.


We got a pot of jasmine rice going (I love the scent of popcorn that comes from it while it cooks) and prepped up all the ingredients for my chop suey. Fired up my 25-year-old steel wok and began stir-frying my chop suey ingredients. The aroma of chop suey filled my kitchen, and I couldn't wait to have some.

How did it turn out? Just like the chop suey, I remember from when I was younger. I can't wait to make it again, maybe with pork tenderloin or ground pork. Give it a try.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@

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