• Li Hongzhang's chop suey (Adam Liaw)Source: Adam Liaw

The dish of chop suey was more likely to have developed as a simple stew of whatever ingredients were available, seasoned with the only common Chinese seasonings available in the Americas at the time – soy sauce and rice wine. Here’s a version of chop suey in the style of Anhui cuisine, with a rich broth, silky soup and delicious mountain ingredients. Destination Flavour China 






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Average: 4.2 (7 votes)

The late-Qing Dynasty politician, Li Hongzhang visited the United States to meet with President Grover Cleveland at the turn of the 19th century. Often tasked with representing China’s interests to foreign powers, he was China’s most influential foreign diplomat.

Li was born in Anhui, but the dish that now bears his name has more obscure origins. A conceit of American Chinese food, chop suey is perhaps the most influential Chinese dish abroad.

His visit to the USA was a huge diplomatic event – much like Nixon’s visit to China a century later – and sparked unprecedented interest in China from the American public. The canny Chinese restaurateurs of New York used his visit to promote their cuisine. A native of Anhui, the restaurateurs created a story that Li HongZhang had visited a New York Chinese restaurant late at night, and finding the kitchen closed, the chef created a dish from leftovers in the style of Li’s home province of Anhui. The chef called it ‘za sui’, later westernised to chop suey. Literally meaning ‘entrails’ or ‘miscellaneous bits and pieces’ chop suey is a hodgepodge of ingredients thrown together and bound with a starch-thickened sauce.

In fact, Li travelled with three private chefs and the only restaurant he’s known to eat at was one in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. It’s very unlikely he ever popped down to Chinatown for a sneaky feed. 


  • 200 g pork belly, skin off, thinly sliced
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 500 ml (2 cups) hot water
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 2 thick slices ginger, bruised
  • ½ brown onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 100 g peeled green prawns, peeled
  • 1 small bunch choy sum, leaves separated
  • 8 pieces baby corn, halved lengthways
  • 1 carrot, halved lengthways and thinly sliced
  • 100 g peeled fresh bamboo shoot, thinly sliced
  • 100 g enoki mushrooms, separated into small clumps
  • 500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) yellow wine, or 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • pinch of white pepper
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornflour (see Note)
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) cold chicken stock or water

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Soaking time 20 mins

1. Cover the shiitake mushrooms with the hot water and allow to stand for 20 minutes.

2. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, slice the caps and reserve the liquid.

3. Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil. Add the ginger, onion and garlic (in that order) and fry until the oil is fragrant.

4. Add the prawns and toss until just cooked. Remove the prawns and aromatics from the wok, leaving as much oil in the wok as possible.   

5. Return the wok to high heat. Add the pork and stir-fry until browned, then remove from the wok. Return the wok to the heat again, add the choy sum, baby corn, carrot, bamboo shoots and mushrooms (both the enoki and shiitake) and stir-fry until just tender.

6. Add the reserved shiitake stock and the chicken stock, then add the soy sauce, wine, pepper and sugar and bring to a simmer.

7. Return the pork and prawns to the wok and toss well. Stirring continuously, add the cornflour slurry and cook just until thick silky sauce forms.

8. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


• Mix 1 tbsp of cornflour in 60 ml of cold chicken stock or water, until dissolved.


Photography by Adam Liaw.

Destination Flavour China with Adam Liaw airs 7.30pm, Wednesday on SBS and then on SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.