Chop Suey Nation

Chop Suey Nation

The Legion Cafe and Other Stories From Canada's Chinese Restaurants

Book - 2019
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In 2016, Globe and Mail reporter Ann Hui drove across Canada, from Victoria to Fogo Island, to write about small-town Chinese restaurants and the families who run them. It was only after the story was published that she discovered her own family could have been included--her parents had run their own Chinese restaurant, The Legion Cafe, before she was born. This discovery, and the realization that there was so much of her own history she didn't yet know, set her on a time-sensitive mission: to understand how, after generations living in a poverty-stricken area of Guangdong, China, her family had somehow wound up in Canada. Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants weaves together Hui's own family history--from her grandfather's decision to leave behind a wife and newborn son for a new life, to her father's path from cooking in rural China to running some of the largest "Western" kitchens in Vancouver, to the unravelling of a closely guarded family secret--with the stories of dozens of Chinese restaurant owners from coast to coast. Along her trip, she meets a Chinese-restaurant owner/small-town mayor, the owner of a Chinese restaurant in a Thunder Bay curling rink, and the woman who runs a restaurant alone, 365 days a year, on the very remote Fogo Island. Hui also explores the fascinating history behind "chop suey" cuisine, detailing the invention of classics like "ginger beef" and "Newfoundland chow mein," and other uniquely Canadian fare like the "Chinese pierogies" of Alberta. Hui, who grew up in authenticity-obsessed Vancouver, begins her journey with a somewhat disparaging view of small-town "fake Chinese" food. But by the end, she comes to appreciate the essentially Chinese values that drive these restaurants--perseverance, entrepreneurialism and deep love for family. Using her own family's story as a touchstone, she explores the importance of these restaurants in the country's history and makes the case for why chop suey cuisine should be recognized as quintessentially Canadian.
Publisher: Madeira Park, BC :, Douglas & McIntyre,, 2019
ISBN: 9781771622226
Branch Call Number: 647.9571 HUI
Characteristics: 288 pages, xvi pages of plates : color illustrations ; 22 cm
Alternative Title: Book Club Selection

Opinion

From Library Staff

Ann Hui drives across Canada to explore the small town Chinese restaurants that exist across the nation. In the process, she also documents her own family’s journey from their native China to Vancouver, where they too opened a Chinese restaurant. Along the way, she samples “Canadian-Chinese” food... Read More »

List - Beach Reads 2019
WVMLlibrarian Mar 18, 2017

In 2016, Globe and Mail reporter Ann Hui drove across Canada, from Victoria to Fogo Island, to write about small-town Chinese restaurants and the families who run them. It was only after the story was published that she discovered her own family could have been included--her parents had run their... Read More »


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JessicaGma May 06, 2020

An excellent memoir and travelogue all wrapped up in one as Ann Hui visited various Chinese restaurants to see what made Canadian Chinese food, as well as learn more about her parents and their journey in immigrating to a new country. It's extremely well written and very interesting. Definitely one of my fave food books in a while.

liljables Dec 17, 2019

In 2016, journalist Ann Hui and her husband embarked on a cross-Canada road trip with a very specific purpose: to visit small, family owned Chinese restaurants across the country. Hui was intrigued by the phenomenon of Chinese restauranteurs serving food that in no way resembled actual Chinese cuisine - how did this so-called “chop suey” (which translates roughly to “bits & pieces”) become Canada’s answer to Chinese food? In visiting these restaurants, Hui meets generations of Chinese Canadians, each family with its own reasons for moving to rural Canada.

Chop Suey Nation is a great balance of travelogue, food memoir, and family history. As she travels east from Victoria, Hui unpacks her own family’s experience of coming from China to Canada and running a restaurant in Abbotsford. In doing so, we also get glimpses of the larger history of the terrible treatment of Chinese immigrants in Canada. These emotional but informative passages are interspersed with Hui’s visits to restaurants with many aesthetic similarities but each with its own charming regional particularities. This book is entertaining, educational, and thoroughly enjoyable!

mazinwhistler Oct 15, 2019

This book really surprised me...I thought it was going to be simply a list of Chinese restaurants throughout Canada and it is, but it is also so much more. Through her journey across Canada, Hui finds out about why the Chinese have set up restaurants in tiny small towns where you would least expect them to fin and delves into the history of Chinese immigration to Canada in the 20th century. She also discovers more about her own family's history and how they came to be Canadian. A great read with a bit of everything!

sabrinaMCE Aug 01, 2019

Excellent. Thank you for capturing so many aspects of the Canadian-Chinese story. The way the dark times and the good times were written about in this book, just wow. The several stories and experiences, opinions, and perspectives, were so thoughtful, well articulated and so meaningful!
I was not expecting the emotional experience that this book took me on, but I found this so relatable and it truly summarizes many unique lived experiences that are so rarely talked about, celebrated, and/or shared in such a beautiful manner.
Truly a wonderful read.

j
jmikesmith
Jul 29, 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.

m
mammothhawk229e
Jul 06, 2019

Reporter tried to answer two questions.
Why there is Chinese restaurant in every small town.
Who are the families that run them.
Actually there were three more.
How her family got into Canada in the first place.
How her parents run Legion Restaurant in rural Abbotford before she was born.
Why people kept on going to Chinese-Canadian (very loosely) restaurants despite authentic Chinese restaurants available thanks to Hong Kong Chef influx starting in the 1980s.
I'm sure rental car company giving clown car to author & her future spouse in epic cross-country trip was an honest mistake...
Book unofficial companion to Escape to Gold Mountain graphic novel.
Her parents sure had to deal with insular sometimes racist locals back then just like me dealing with random non-constructive online potshots from immature, inconsiderate & illequipped Curlywhirly.

j
judy4234
May 11, 2019

Such a beautiful story. Thank you Ann Hui. Although my parents didn't run a restaurant, our immigrant stories are so similar, the hardships, the sacrifices for the next generation. When I read this book I felt I was reading a story of my own family, even to the point of when my own father was dying of cancer, how he said "I have no regrets". I was brought to tears.

efok Mar 19, 2019

For those waiting for the book - this title is currently available on Hoopla as an eBook!

debwalker Mar 10, 2019

There was at least one in every Ontario town back in the day. Part of the Chinese Canadian experience.

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