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Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea

by: BM Arnold
Tung, TE and Chong, RD

Fayetteville AR: University of ArkansasPress, Hardbound

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(4) page(s): 19

Funded in part by the Julia Child Foundation, this collection of thirteen essays and its introduction are heavily weighted toward Chinese food and facilities. Ten are by a single author, three by two of them, the Introduction by just one author. Two are focused on Japanese food and facilities, three Asian-fusion related, the rest have a Chinese focus.

This type of collection is sorely needed and appreciated because one does learn things about many eateries that are not listed in the Index and should be. This book pays little attention to the restaurants mentioned after tantalizing readers with a cover that says: “Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea; Chinese and Japanese Restaurants in the United States.” Some chapters tout only their family eateries, others offer historical tidbits or background, some share the percentage of capital an owner or two put in to get it open, while others share even less-important information. A few tell the dishes they serve or where it is located.

The credits on the rear cover are from academics as is this reviewer; and they call the book thoughtful and thought-provoking, It does not provide enough of either because it does not tell enough about foods served in any restaurant. It says it is a “provocative and informative collection of essays that examine Chinese and Japanese restaurants (using) archival, historical, ethnographic, and literary methodologies.” We wish it had more of all of these.

What it does provide is personal perspectives of the eateries of the authors and their families showcasing them, not the foods they serve. This book is “chock-full of tasty morsels for foodies and scholars alike.” We did not see or taste enough of them.

This scholar felt short-changed in the four-page Foreword and a duck recipe in this reviewer’s publication, Flavor and Fortune. But his single-page Preface short-changed it says very little while his ten-page chapter shares but a few generations of his family’s restaurants in several cities, and lots about how much money many owners financially contributed to a particular place.

One of the best chapters, a long one, is about the evolution of Taiwanese cuisine in a Flushing Queens neighborhood, 1970 to the present. It discusses that community and why roots were put down there, includes some earlier background, and many of the restaurant principals, how they transformed the menus and why. Differences between Taiwanese and the Chinese cuisines, their struggles related to needed economic security, enlarging dish offerings and why they serve the foods they do.

There are forty-seven pages of Chapter Notes, bibliographic context, six pages about the contributors and a four page Index.

This book is a good beginning, it needs a more detailed Index for its three hundred thirty-five pages, a list of the restaurants and where they are written about should they do a reprint. It also needs impact on culture, politics, and foodways, the ethnicity of each restaurant, their locations, and more.

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