Legend has it that Chop Suey was invented right here in NYC, by the chef for Li Hung Chang, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States. The story goes that on August 29th, 1896 Chang's cooks created the dish for his American guests at a state dinner. It was composed of celery, bean sprouts, and meat in a starchy sauce supposedly intended to appeal to both Chinese and American tastes.

Of course, sticklers insist this origin story is apocryphal, because Oxford English Dictionary's first citation of "chop suey" comes from 1888, and it seems it was already in widespread use at the time. (The dictionary described it as "a staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens' livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs' tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices.")

It is true that Li Hung Chang's visit to the New York City in 1896 fascinated Americans and contributed to the mainstream expansion of Chinese cuisine in America. But Snopes theorizes that the dish may have originated on the west coast when Chinese miners and railroad workers got together and cooked whatever they had. Or perhaps it's Andrew Coe, the author of a book about Chinese food in America called Chop Suey told the New Yorker:

I believe that the chop suey served in New York’s Chinatown back in the eighteen-eighties. was a real Chinese dish, a local specialty from the Guangdong province town of Taishan, which sent the majority of Chinese immigrants to the United States. In the early descriptions, it’s a mixed stir fry made from chicken giblets, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, onions, tripe, dried seafood, and whatever else is at hand.

However, as more and more non-Chinese began to eat the dish, restaurant owners realized that they could sell a lot more by adapting the dish to American tastes. All the weird, imported ingredients disappeared, replaced with easily-identifiable meats and the essential accompaniments of bean sprouts, onions, and celery. Over the decades, this Americanized dish became a kind of overcooked and essentially flavorless stew that somehow hit all the buttons for our taste buds. From 1900 to 1960 or so, chop suey was one of the most popular dishes in the country, up there with ham and eggs, hot dogs, and apple pie.

So basically, nobody really knows where chop suey came from, which gives New Yorkers just as much right to claim it as anyone else! Coe recommends trying the classic Chinese-American chop suey at Hop Kee, downstairs at 21 Mott Street, but "everyone who’s in the know goes there for the crabs Cantonese style." If you've got any hot chop suey tips, we're all ears.