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Eating Chinese

by: Lily Cho

Toronto, Canada : University of Toronto Press 2010, Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4426-10040-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(3) page(s): 18

A professor at Murdoch University's School of Humanities and Social Sciences says to read this book and learn how food mediates the reception of the Chinese diaspora in Canada. How true! It also sheds light, logic, and insight on the important role they played in many small communities where they opened restaurants, fed white folks white foods, and became the place in town for coffee and conversation.

Lily Cho defines Chinese cultural roles in and out of Chinese communities in many small towns in Canada. Learn what it means to be Chinese in these white communities and be a restaurant owner, chef, cook, or server, even a diner frequenting them. Subtitled: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada, learn about these small disappearing places sorely missed by their white patrons. Learn about the memories they and the Chinese have, even their dreams.

After reading all five chapters, go academic and read the seventy-five chapter notes at the end of the book. They detail items and explain things worth knowing but not necessary. Then, take a second look at the undated black and white photos; they replace what you may have imagined. Even the cartoon before the title page brings images to mind.

One does not have to read these items, and I did not until after the second reading; but my suggestion is not to skip them. They add to this eminently serious and sensitive book Lily Cho has written. It allows one to look intimately at the Chinese diaspora in a country where they are a very small immigrant group. This book makes for great reading, great learning about this small population spread thin in a growing country, and the impact they had on it and the impact it had on them.

Before I read the book, I looked at the picture on the cover and thought I recognized the restaurant. Perhaps I ate at her parents' Shangri-la Restaurant; if not theirs, then those of other Chinese families. Reading brought back many memories, recalling the many non-Chinese dishes on their menus. Now I see how they connected. These readings tell me and others the sacrifices the restaurant owners made to keep connected to each other and to make a connection for and to Canada.

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