Books·Canadian

Chop Suey Nation

Chop Suey Nation is a nonfiction book by Ann Hui.

Ann Hui

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. (From Douglas & McIntyre)

Why Ann Hui wrote Chop Suey Nation

"I started the trip feeling that this kind of food was less than the authentic stuff that that I had always been told to hold the highest value. But as I travelled to all of these restaurants and learned about the stories and the struggles behind this food and what it represents — the opportunities and barriers that the first Chinese cooks had to overcome in building these restaurants and creating the cuisine — it gave me this appreciation for it.

It's a food that was created out of discrimination and racism and ingenuity and creativity. It tells such a fascinating part of our history here in Canada.- Ann Hui

"It's a food that's born out of struggle. It's a food that was created out of discrimination and racism and ingenuity and creativity. It tells such a fascinating part of our history here in Canada. It tells us about who we were and who we are as Canadians."

Read more in Ann Hui's interview with CBC Books.

Interviews with Ann Hui

Ann Hui talks to Shelagh Rogers about her book, Chop Suey Nation, The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants 12:01
Author and journalist Ann Hui sampled the food and culture of Canadian-Chinese restaurants across the country, and wrote about what she found in Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants. 24:01
Food is an important part of any holiday. With today marking the Lunar New Year, we check in with writer Ann Hui to see what she's cooking up. 7:00

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