A journalist makes her way across Canada from Vancouver to Fogo Island in Newfoundland, surveying Chinese restaurants in small towns across the country. In parallel, she tells her personal story of how her family originated from Toisan and ended up in Vancouver running Chinese restaurants, and the family narrative ends up being quite similar to the restaurants she visits.
The title “chop suey” comes from Cantonese 杂碎 (zaap6 seoi3), describing the type of westernized “fake” Chinese food like ginger beef. This type of food is often seen as “fake” and “not authentic” by Chinese people, but it caters to white customers who wouldn’t appreciate real Chinese food. Once invented, a dish quickly spreads across the country, like ginger beef which was invented in the 1970s in Calgary.
The stories of the people running the restaurants are very similar, usually from the Toisan region of Guangzhou, wanting a better life overseas. Often a distant family member brings other family members over, where they open Chinese restaurants in small rural communities to escape the high rent and competition in large cities like Vancouver. Still, they’re willing to work hard with little pay, save up money, so that their children can have a better life. Cute book, initially about this curious Chinese-Western dish, but uncovers insights into history and politics of Chinese-Canadian immigration.