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Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States [Anglais] [Relié]

Andrew Coe

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In 1784, passengers on the ship Empress of China became the first Americans to land in China, and the first to eat Chinese food. Today, the United States is home to more Chinese restaurants than any other ethnic cuisine. In this authoritative new history, author Andrew Coe traces the fascinating story of America's centuries-long encounter with Chinese food. CHOP SUEY tells how we went from believing that Chinese meals contained dogs and rats to making regular pilgrimages to the neighborhood chop suey parlor. From China, the book follows the story to the American West, where both Chinese and their food struggled against racism, and then to New York and that crucial moment when Chinese cuisine first crossed over to the larger population. Along this journey, Coe shows how the peasant food of an obscure part of China came to dominate Chinese-American restaurants; unravels the truth of chop suey's origin; illuminates why American Jews fell in love with egg rolls and chow mein; and shows how Nixon's 1972 trip to China opened our palates to a new world of cuisine; and explains why we still can't get dishes like restaurants serve in China. The book also shows how larger historical forces shape our tastes--the belief in Manifest Destiny, the American assertion of military might in the Pacific, and the country's post-WWII rise to superpower status. Written for both popular and academic audiences, CHOP SUEY reveals this story through prose that brings to life the characters, settings and meals that helped form this crucial component of American food culture.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.2 étoiles sur 5  75 commentaires
32 internautes sur 35 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Possibly Mismarketed 23 octobre 2009
Par E. A. Montgomery - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
I have often been told that if you have not traveled to China, then (as an American) you have never eaten Chinese food. I expected Chop Suey to be a foodie book about the evolution of the way food is prepared in China to the way it is served in our Chinese eateries. Chop Suey bills itself as "A Cultural History Of Chinese Food In The United States". It's really more of a history of how America has viewed the Chinese. It is not until a hundred pages or so in that the details of Chinese cuisine come into play. Prior to that, the book is a history of the China / American trade and a limited look at propaganda produced from those early voyages. There is a report here or there about the Americans being offered a meal they could not appreciate, but the primary focus is on the bigotry between the two.

From that point Chop Suey moves into the exploitation of early Chinese immigrants, the extreme racism they faced, and how they tried to hold on to their culture and cuisine in the face of it. Along the way many found jobs as cooks or opened fast food counters trying to prepare a food that met the expectations and tastes of their customers. Since those expectations were rooted in post colonial bias, the food that resulted bore little relation to what the Chinese ate at home. Moving into kosher Chinese food and eventually to Nixon's visit to China, Chop Suey continues to be a history of Chinese American relations with food as the tie and excuse for the journey. The murder of a young woman has little bearing on Chinese food as we know it, but such side trips relate to what seems to have been the author's real intention, exposing how racism kept our palates from a true cultural exchange.

There is a wealth of information in Chop Suey. The flaw of the book is that it doesn't match one's expectations. After those expectations are adjusted, it's a somewhat disjointed bundle of information without an overriding point of view to carry the reader along. It's like listening to someone go on at length about a topic they've studied in depth and become and expert on without them engaging your interest as well. This is a heavier read than it appears, and likely to thrill those who want to take a quick course in the topic while losing those just looking for a weekend jaunt.
30 internautes sur 34 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Much more informative than I expected 20 juillet 2009
Par oldtaku - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
I have to admit that from the cover I expected a fluffy but entertaining book in the style of _Eat My Globe_ but I actually got a lot more than that. This is a fact dense book, well researched.

The book opens with the new country of America sending its first ambassador (actually a merchant, which is very apropos on both sides) to China. It then diverges into a brief history of Chinese food in China - and Coe does a marvelous job of editing here, considering it's over 10,000 years of history and at least four major regions, each with their own sub-regions with their own culinary traditions.

Then back to the US, where Chinese restaurants arrived in the 1850s to feed all the Chinese people who'd come over looking for the mountains of gold. Americans never really developed a taste for the food till the 1900s, at which point it had become bland and homogenized enough to appeal to our whitebread tastes. Finally we go through the Jewish-Chinese food boom, the revitalization after WW2, Nixon's re-opening of China, and the state we're in today. The book ends with the happy yet sad state of affairs that you can get real Chinese food in the US if you know where to look, but most of it is still neutered to what we find acceptable - but we do that to all cuisines.

Unfortunately the history of Chinese people in the US is also the history of racism, so you will feel very uncomfortable about some of the quoted newspaper articles and accounts which are sprinkled with racial slurs and provincial attitudes - and not just about Chinese. Coe commendably reprints these without any squeamishness, as they're crucial to understanding American attitudes towards China.

Since the facts are so dense and interesting on their own, Coe doesn't really try to spice them up or breathlessly embroider them. The humor is very dry and low key - such as the tale of the socialite who scandalized society by her night trips to Chinatown to satiate her forbidden lust for... noodles. This means that if you're looking for something like _Kitchen Confidential_ you won't find it here. This makes it more informative, but if you need the stream of information rationed out and tarted up you'll be bored.

You'll find several bits of Chinese food trivia (and misinformation) covered here, such as where General Tso's chicken came from, the persistent notion that Chinese will eat anything (yes but no), and as promised by the title page, the history of Chop Suey.

All in all, I liked it quite a bit and blew threw it in two nights. This was much denser than I expected - it obviously skips a lot of detail in places, but it still ends up at 320 pages of fascinating overview with selected digressions, and he does give you a list of references if you're hungry for more.
7 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Great read as history, good read for a foodie 26 juillet 2009
Par T. S. - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
There are two groups of people I can see wanting to read this book: people interested in history, and people interested in food. This book is a great niche resource for historians or history lovers and a good read for foodies.

The history side of the book is great because the author manages the difficult trick of presenting richly detailed history in a way that's accessible to a normal reader --- the author has very clearly done his research, and he presents an immense number of excerpts from first-hand accounts of meals eaten by everyone from 1800's San Francisco workmen to Jazz Age New York socialites "slumming it" in Chinatown. (My personal favorite was his account of a 1950's-era _Mad Magazine_ comic strip on dinner in a chinese restaurant that I could dimly remember reading myself as a child). It never gets dry or boring, though, perhaps because food is so inextricably tied into so many other issues -- culture, race, class; immigration, poverty, and the changing of social mores over time -- and the author does a great job of tying all those things into the tale. When he describes the plight of a hostess in Sinclair Lewis' 1920 novel _Main Street_ who throws a chinese-themed party that none of the guests in her rural Minnesota town can appreciate, or the development of Nixon's love for chinese food (from secretly packing pepperidge farm bread and frozen hamburgers onto Air Force One during his China visit, to later frequently patronizing select New York chinese restaurants), the reader gets an excellent picture of how America gradually came to accept and appreciate chinese food.

The author doesn't just spout an excess of facts; he expertly uses his extensive background research to effectively tell his story. As history, and as cultural history, this book is almost impeccable.

As a food book, it's also pretty good, but it's less compelling, primarily because it includes almost no recipes at all. The author will spend a whole chapter talking about Chop Suey, for example, from its origins to modern versions, but the closest thing to a recipe in the whole chapter was an excerpt from a 1920's _New York Home Journal_ article. Similarly, I was immensely interested to find out the true history of General Tso's Chicken, but I would have liked something closer to a detailed recipe than the quick description provided ("dark meat chicken marinated in egg whites and soy sauce . . . quickly deep fried, [then] stir-fried with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, sesame oil, and dried chili peppers.") Give me proportions and times and temperatures! If I've read a whole book on the history of chinese food, there's decent odds I'd want to try replicating some historical recipes myself; the failure to include more detailed, complete recipes strikes me as a missed opportunity.

All in all, this is a neat read, and I'd strongly recommend it to both the lover of cultural history and the lover of food; but moreso to the former than to the latter.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 I was surprised at how interesting this book really is 24 octobre 2013
Par Kurt A. Johnson - Publié sur
In this interesting book, author and gastronomic expert, Andrew Coe tells the story of America’s long-time relationship with Chinese foods. It starts all the way back in the early days of our country, when merchants sailed to China to open up trade relations, and found themselves confronted with foods and eating habits that could not have been more different than what they were used to. But, with the opening of the California gold fields, Chinese people began to come to America, and Chinese restaurants began to open up all over. This book tells the story of America’s relationship with China, and their love-hate (usually love) relationship.

I must say that that I was surprised at how interesting this book really is. I didn’t expect too much when I picked it up, but when I started reading, I found that the author knew a great deal about the subject, and that he really knew how to present it in a concise and interesting manner.

I know what you are thinking, “How can a book on Chinese food be all that interesting?” Well, the fact is that it is. If you want a history book on a little-known part of American history (the history of America’s relationship with China and Chinese food), then get this book.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Delightful 25 mars 2013
Par Carol Toscano - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
My first introduction to real Chinese cuisine came while I was in college in the early 1980s. A friend of Chinese descent (she was a first generation American of Chinese lineage) introduced me to her mother who introduced me to real - repeat REAL - Chinese cooking. Not Chinese restaurant cuisine - real people cuisine. I had no idea what I'd been missing. I'd missed a lot. Marbled eggs for one thing.

This is both a history and a foodie resource guide to Chinese food. The only thing missing (from a foodie perspective, that is) is recipes but I guess that's another book altogether.

The most interesting thing about this book is how the author blends so many elements of culture showing how immigration and poverty impacted the development of a rich and diverse cuisine. It's culturally similar, in my mind, to the ways Italian immigrant food evolved over time in America (I'm only second generation Italian American so I know the difference between real Italian food and Olive Garden creations). I became interested in ethnic cuisines when I started noticing Italian peasant food showing up at expensive restaurants.

This book becomes of tour of cuisine across America from the diverse Asian communities in San Francisco and across the country to New York City, where Chinese food is a thing unto itself.

I found the author and his recollections/tales of meals eaten and travels both charming and thorough in narrative. I learned a lot about how cuisines evolve and how a rich of history can be drawn from each dish served and eaten.

This is a delightful, interesting read. Recommend.
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