In researching another Chinese culinary mystery, namely why Anhui cuisine is named as one of China's "Eight Great Culinary Traditions" I kept coming across references to a dish named "Li Hongzhang Hotchpotch." This dish is usually listed as one of the four or five landmark dishes of Anhui cuisine, and one source describes the dish as follows:
Li Hongzhang hotchpotch is a popular dish named after one of Anhui's famous personages. Li Hongzhang was a top official of the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). When he was in office, he paid a visit to the US and hosted a banquet for all his American friends. As the specially prepared dishes continued to flow, the chefs, with limited resources, began to fret. Upon Li Hongzhang's order, the remaining kitchen ingredients were thrown together into an impromptu stew, containing sea cucumber, squid, tofu, ham, mushroom, chicken meat and other less identifiable food materials! Thus appetites were quenched and a dish was created.
"Li Hongzhang Hotchpotch," it is immediately evident, is the very dish we call "chop suey." So, an obscure dish with humble origins in China is reinvented and achieves fame abroad as the ultimate in adaptive cuisine, and then the land of its reputed creator is proud to welcome it home and bask in its reflected glory.