It’s no surprise to most of us that the Chinese food we adore is an adapted, Canadian version, different from meals enjoyed in China. I have memories of visiting a local Chinese restaurant and watching my father ask for the ‘other menu.’ He would choose something that I couldn’t pronounce or even describe, but was inevitably delicious.
With a dish of scrumptious ‘chop suey’ on the bold red cover, Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui caught my eye because the blurb on the cover promised coverage of small-town Chinese restaurants across Canada. A quick flip through the book showed that yes, Thunder Bay IS mentioned. Nosey by nature, I looked forward to a peek into the behind the scenes lives of the restaurant operators across the nation. Did they resent having to serve ‘fake’ Chinese food? Did they ever eat the same food they served to customers? I knew that bon bon ribs were a Thunder Bay creation, but I was curious to discover what other regional dishes existed.
Hui’s book is a diary of her journey across Canada, describing her visits to a variety of Chinese restaurants, each unique in its own way but surprisingly connected in the stories the operators have to tell. Intermingled between the tales of the stops she made on her trip is the emotional history of Hui’s own family. Jumping from present day to the past, the author shares with readers as she delves into her father’s early life in China, his eventual journey to Canada, and the life her parents created here.
Chop Suey Nation reads like fiction, grabbing the audience in an emotional recollection of Hui’s family saga as well as a look at the similarities to the stories of the families she visited. As an added bonus, look for a mention of Ling Lee’s!