I discovered an old menu for Al’s Chop Suey while visiting an antique shop in Berkeley this afternoon. I dig this sort of thing, especially since the idea of “chop suey” denotes a very specific period in American food culture, namely the mid-20th century. Several myths surround the origins of chop suey, which has been referenced in the United States as early as the 1880s. However, despite the many stories regarding the genesis of this dish, chop suey was most likely inspired by the Cantonese dish “tsap seui” (meaning miscellaneous leftovers, according to Wikipedia). These days, it’s easy to dismiss chop suey as a Chinese-American bastardization, but I still regard this dish as an important gateway to Chinese cuisine. We had to start somewhere.
I can’t find too many details about Al’s Chop Suey, but some googling does acknowledge that the people of East Oakland were once rather fond of this joint, which was located right across from the New Fruitvale Theater (the cinema burned down in 1968, and was ultimately demolished in 1979). The November 8, 1939 edition of the Oakland Tribune features an ad for the grand opening of Al’s Chop Suey, and the ad also mentions Benny Chin as the new proprietor. Oakland phone directories link Chin to restaurant well into the late 1960s, so Al’s Chop Suey was certainly a neighborhood staple for several decades.
I’m not sure how much the Al’s Chop Suey menu had changed over the years, but this particular version of the menu is divided into an American section and a Chinese section (the latter of which is pictured below). There are few clues as to the specific date of the menu, but the American section does offer a bottle of Coca-Cola for 10 cents, which makes me believe that it was probably from the 1950s.
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