Activities: Chinese Restaurants in Canadian Literature

  1. Identify one important dish in the Chinese Canadian food repertoire that appears in a Chinese restaurant narrative. Explore its history—where it originated, moments in which preparation methods changed, the ways it is represented on restaurant menus and possibly even on packaged food products. You might consider the role of ginger and garlic in Chinese Canadian cuisine, for example, benefiting from commentary on these ingredients in Wah’s Diamond Grill.
  2. In her 2005 culinary memoir Chow: From China to Canada: Memories of Food + Family, Janice Wong recounts her family’s history alongside recipes that her father used to make in his two restaurants in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Wong’s father, Dennis Wong, ended up in the restaurant business in large part because of Canadian laws:

    He told me simply that when he was a young man it was very difficult for Asian people to obtain decent work. The West was at war with Japan and anti-Asian sentiment was high. . . . Before the end of the Second World War, Chinese people in Canada were excluded from the privileges of official citizenship. They were unable to vote, unable to enter professions—barred from teaching, medicine, law, and engineering. He said that, beginning with his first venture, the little coffee shop he started with Dan and Cecil in the early 1940s, he never thought twice about starting a business. It seemed like the obvious thing to do. (164)

    What is the history of Canada’s policies relating to the immigration and work practices of the Chinese community in Canada? One place to start is the Wikipedia article on the history of Chinese immigration to Canada. But challenge yourself to pursue the question and consult other resources. Find information that could be added to the Wikipedia article to improve it.

  3. Visit a Chinese restaurant in your community. Look closely at the menu to identify what stories can be gleaned from the items listed, languages used, layout, etc. Write a creative restaurant review by reflecting on these stories. You may want to explore the history of the restaurant itself. When was it opened? Has it changed ownership? Has the name been changed over time? How might such close consideration of a particular restaurant enrich your understanding of Chinese restaurant narratives? (Indeed, this question might be posed for each of the activities in this section.)
  4. Visit the Chinese Canadian Stories site. After exploring this remarkable resource, go to the “Videos” page giving you access to a number of free videos, and choose one to watch. Then write a list of ten things that you learned from the video of your choice, and one paragraph detailing how this historical context enriches your understanding of a Chinese restaurant narrative.
  5. Read the Chinese-Japanese Cook Book (1914) by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna. This is one of the earliest publications by Asian Canadian writers, though published by an American press. Write a review of this cookbook, focusing on whether the recipes are comprehensive, whether they work well to guide kitchen practice, and how they reflect either, both, or none of Chinese and Japanese food traditions.

Works Cited

  • Bosse, Sara, and Onoto Watanna. Chinese-Japanese Cook Book. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1914. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
  • Chinese Canadian Stories. U of British Columbia and Simon Fraser U. 2012. Accessed September 9, 2017. (Link)
  • “History of Chinese Immigration to Canada.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 9, 2017. (Link)
  • Wah, Fred. Diamond Grill. Edmonton: NeWest, 1996. Print.
  • Wong, Janice. Chow: From China to Canada: Memories of Food + Family. North Vancouver: Whitecap, 2005. Print.