Take out and eat in, Christmas at the King Wok restaurant means feeding families, one deep-fried chicken ball at a time.
From Fogo Island to Victoria, Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous in Canada, and to many Canadians, they serve true comfort food. In Kitchener Ontario, in the middle of a suburban strip mall, you can find one such restaurant called King Wok.
For the family that runs this restaurant, the week between Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day is its busiest. That week, the staff doubles in size — ballooning to six — to handle the number of orders and preparation starts days before the rush begins.
Despite the extra work, a busy restaurant is always better than an idle one. King Wok has been around for more than 20 years and it’s profitable and provides a service to a community of devoted customers that includes local families, senior homes, and churches.
On Christmas Day, food isn't only prepared for King Wok customers. Christmas dinner is being cooked up for the extended family — an annual tradition. Once the restaurant closes, more than 40 family members start to pour in, and it’s then the culinary muscles truly get flexed.
Pork knuckles and mushrooms, fish belly soup, king mushroom braised noodles and scallops with snow peas are some of the classic Cantonese dishes being made for this special occasion. Like so many families across Canada, Christmas may be one of the only times everybody gets together so the food has to be perfect.
Restaurant work is difficult and not very glamorous. The labour is invisible, viewed only through the opaque lid of a takeout container. Typically, we have only seen Chinese restaurants on Christmas in the background of movies or as punchlines to stories. A Sweet & Sour Christmas gives us a window into the world of Chinese-Canadian restaurant owners in ways that are truly reflective of their experience, that honour the working class, and that showcase the stories behind the labour.