In 2016, Globe and Mail reporter Ann Hui drove across Canada to answer two questions: Why is there a Chinese restaurant in every small town? And who are 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 set her on a time-sensitive mission: to understand how her own family had somehow wound up in Canada.
Chop Suey Nation weaves together Hui’s own family history with those 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 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 pierogi” of Alberta.
Hui, who grew up in authenticity-obsessed Vancouver, starts out her journey with a dim view of “fake" small-town Chinese food. But along the way she comes to understand the values that drive these restaurants — perseverance, entrepreneurialism and deep love for family. Using her own family’s story as a touchstone, she reveals the importance of these restaurants to this country’s history and makes the case for why chop suey cuisine is quintessentially Canadian.
Ann Hui is The Globe and Mail’s national food reporter, using food as a lens to explore public policy, health, the environment, and agriculture. She began her career as a general assignment reporter in the national section, before covering Toronto politics from 2013-2015. She has been nominated twice for a National Newspaper Award.