Monday, May 08, 2006

American Chop Suey

I received this email from Miles Lambert of Williamsburg, Virginia:

I came across your website while doing a little preliminary exploring about Navy food. I am a free lance writer and especially like to write humorous pieces about food and wine. Having served in the Navy during 1969-73, I have thought about doing something relating to Navy chow, though I'm not too sure in what way. Sometime these things require a long incubation, during which time I do some research. Sometime these things require a long incubation, during which time I do some research. One reason I wanted to contact you now is to ask whether you can recommend any books that talk about how recipes were developed in the Navy in past times, let's say in the period from WWII to Vietnam. I would be interested in reading about specific recipes as well as the general topic. I'd also like to know about how much leeway a cook has in 'bending' recipes as need be. I am sure galley cooks must have some very funny stories in that regard.

I notice that you have a Hungarian last name. I am Hungarian on my mother's side, and you might enjoy this story as much as I did when it happened. I was a yeoman aboard the USS Enterprise, and one day my assistant came back from lunch and said they had "goulash." Of course my ears perked up and I went down to the alley ... Only to find elbow macaroni with ground beef and some tomato and what not. I tried to explain to my shipmate that this concoction has nothing to do with goulash. But I couldn't get it across to him. He was from the mountains of West Virginia, and I was surprised recently to see in June Carter Cash's cookbook that she had exactly the same idea of goulash!

I have a similar goulash story. I too never heard the term goulash applied to the macaroni dish until I got off active duty in 1979 and met my wife. The Navy recipe card called the dish that you described "American chop suey."

Goulash often refers to a one-pot mixture of "stuff," kind of a culinary potpourri. It differs greatly from the Hungarian dish, a stew that's often composed of beef, onions, red peppers and paprika. Dave Desiderio, a Viet Nam War brown water sailor, said:
I remember the chow at ... was good. I particularly remember what I call "American Chop Suey" -- macaroni noodles and hamburger all mixed up. I love that stuff, especially with Tabasco sauce. Breakfasts were typically GI, and I've always liked that stuff, too. Yes, I like SOS.
The first time Debbie invited me to her grandmother's house for dinner, she proudly announced they were having goulash for dinner. Unlike your initial reaction, I puzzled over her Missouri-born and raised grandmother cooking a traditional Hungarian dish (a dish I've only had a few times in my life).

Although their goulash didn't fit my view of the family profile, I enjoyed the dish. And I discovered the dish easily receives copious qualtities of hot sauce.

No comments:

Post a Comment