Chop Suey Nation
Chop Suey Nation The Legion Cafe and Other Stories From Canada's Chinese Restaurants By Hui, Ann eBook - 2019

Ann Hui is a Canadian-born Chinese. Her parents emigrated to Canada, her father from China and her mother from Hong Kong, in the 1970s. Hui had wondered from an early age why there were so many Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, where she grew up, and why the food they served was nothing like what her parents served at home. The sweet and sour staples of Canadian Chinese restaurants were only distantly related to the tastes and textures with which she was familiar.

As an adult journalist for the Globe & Mail in Toronto, Hui set out on a cross-country car trip with her husband to visit Chinese restaurants in small towns across Canada and try to learn why they were so like each other (even to the fonts used on their menus) and why there were so many of them. In between chapters detailing that adventure, Hui recounts how this project allowed her to learn more about her parents' backgrounds, including the fact that they had owned and operated a Chinese restaurant before she was born and that her father's father had come to Canada some twenty years before her father emigrated. Why had her father been left behind in China for so long?

Eventually, Hui found common threads among the many restaurant owners she interviewed, including her parents. I won't spoil her conclusions here, but, as often happens on such journeys, what Hui found was not what she had expected. The reasons were simpler and more straightforward that she had thought, and yet each story had its unique and uncommon twists and turns. Hui also learned a great deal about her own family, and some things that even her parents didn't know (or hadn't taken the time to explore).

Hui's writing is clear and direct, but it doesn't draw you in. She has a light tone with some observational humour. Some scenes toward the end of the book are poignant, but overall I found the style a bit ordinary. In the ebook version that I read, there are photos at the end of the book. I wish they had been located in the sections to which they related or were at least accessible by hyperlinks in those sections.

If you have an interest in Canadian Chinese restaurants and the stories of the immigrant families who run them, you should find this appealing, although the analysis and insight are perhaps a bit light.

jmikesmith's rating:
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