Chop Suey May Have Gotten Its Start In Military Mess Halls

Resembling very little like chop suey one might find in a Chinese American restaurant, American chop suey looks more suitable for a diner in a Midwest grandma's kitchen. Made from elbow macaroni, canned tomatoes, green bell pepper, mozzarella cheese, and ground beef, the recipe is certainly more classic American than mainland China. It's also seasoned with oregano, parsley, and red pepper flakes, which appear frequently in comfort dishes stateside. American chop suey also goes by the names of beefaroni, chili mac, and Johnny Marzetti. 

The version of chop suey more often associated with Chinese American restaurants, as well as home kitchens, also originated in the United States. However, the ingredients for Chinese American chop suey tend to be made with snap peas, baby corn, peppers, sesame oil, white rice, and a protein such as chicken or beef. 

According to Serious Eats, chop suey originated in the U.S. in the early 20th century, but by the 1960s often no longer had rice and instead had pasta and cheese. Soy sauce might be swapped for Worcestershire sauce. All varieties of chop suey contain a hodgepodge of ingredients and, for many, stir up fond memories.

A comforting classic

Chop suey may have become a frequently eaten meal in homes across America, as well as in restaurants, but it likely was first made in military mess halls. Serious Eats says how the 1916 "Manual for Army Cooks" contained a recipe made with beef round or pork shoulder, beef stock, barbecue sauce, and salt. By 1919, a recipe printed in "Practical Home Economics" included tomatoes and parsley, and it was also called "chop suey."  Because chop suey is a fairly easy and adaptable recipe, New England Today reports it became popular in homes, schools, and at church and neighborhood potlucks. The classic version is quick and easy, but the ingredients can be elevated should the cook choose to go with homemade tomato sauce and more expensive cuts of meat. 

Variations abound for American chop suey. Cream cheese can be added for more creaminess or a combination of ground beef and Italian sausage for additional flavor.  One commentator on New England Today wrote her mother made chop suey with Velveeta cheese. No matter the vegetables or choice of meat incorporated into the dish, at its core, it remains a comforting classic.