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Chow

by: Janice Wong

North Vancouver Canada: Whitecap Books 2005, Paperback
ISBN: 1-55285-650-X


Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(2) page(s): 19

Subtitled From China to Canada: Memories of Food Family, this book is by a daughter telling her father's tale with personal stories and traditional Chinese recipes. All of them were her Dad's in this cookbook/family history that spans three generations with a focus on one, that of her parents. Her dad had a culinary career opening two Chinese-Canadian cafés in Prince Albert in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

This book is a gold medal winner in the Canadian Food Culture Category, one of the Canadian Culinary Book Awards. It exemplifies the best of local culture, and is a must read for all with interest in archival images and photographs. Collected by the author, they show her talent as visual artist. Her words create wonderful verbal pictures, as well.

Using Dad's handwritten recipes and his letters, and the larger family's memories, remarkable lives come to life. Dad owned Wings and Lotus, two restaurants that slowly incorporated and enticed Canadian customers to learn about his southern Chinese food, village cooking, and the Cantonese cuisine he knew best. That in itself fascinates as he was born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1917.

Wong's mom was born in Canada's Nanaimo Chinatown five years later. She grew up in this near to Vancouver frontier town that was gated every night, out of necessity. After working in Vancouver, Victoria, and elsewhere, Wong's dad moved eastward to Saskatchewan after an uncle told him of a restaurant's availability. Mom follows much later and helps make Wings popular, but with no Chinese dishes.

Mom eventually moves to Vancouver and works at a Chinese curio shop. Then she starts a dressmaking business with her sister; it is called Beatrice Mar Dressmaking. Bea closes it after the birth of her first child. Mom and Dad marry and a handful of years after the start of Wings, he establishes the Lotus restaurant at the other end of Central Avenue.

That eatery prepares Western-style Chinese food which gains in popularity with locals learning to love Egg Fu Yung, Chicken Chow Mein, Tomato Beef Stir Fry, and other Chinese country dishes. By the time Mom has her first child, who unfortunately was handicapped by a birth injury, she stays home to raise her family. Dad comes home for two hours after lunch, and works six days a week, twelve or more hours each day. In that mid-day respite, parents and children shared tea and cakes together.

This family of six eventually moves to an ethnically mixed neighborhood, purchases a house, and eats multiethnic foods at their restaurant, but cooks Chinese foods at home on week-ends. They never eat out, other than when traveling or visiting with cousins.

These and other stories mix with the realities of anti-Asian sentiment, their not being able to get citizenship during the Second World War, their inability to vote, and their being offered one-way passage back to China with the condition they never return to Canada.

The book, like the recipes in it, offers layers of delicate flavors, Canadian and Chinese. It is a great read, a clear winner, and a volume to cherish while tasting Dad's dishes and the family's verbal delights.
Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Pork
Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 pound lean pork, sliced across the grain
3 slices fresh ginger
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, cut into two-inch pieces
1 small onion, sliced, rings separated
2 Tablespoons rye or Scotch whiskey
1/2 pound button mushrooms
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with trhee0quaters of a cup of cold water
Preparation:
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add oil, and then the pork and the ginger. Stir fry this for two minutes.
2. Add asparagus and onion rings and stir-fry until onion rings are translucent and golden.
3. Add rye or Scotch, a few tablespoons of water, the mushrooms and the salt, and stir, then cover and cook for three minutes.
4. Add soy sauce and oyster sauce and stir, then add cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened; then serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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