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As national food reporter at The Globe and Mail, Ann Hui wanted to write about the classic Chinese-Canadian chop suey restaurant. You know the places – the ones with the signage in “bamboo” font, slinging chow mein and sweet-and-sour pork bathed in Day-Glo red sauce, sometimes alongside fish and chips or a burger platter. Today, Canada’s big cities are awash in authentic Asian cuisine made by immigrants from all corners of the continent (think Vancouver’s Phnom Penh, the Vietnamese-Cambodian hybrid restaurant, one of Hui’s favourites). With options like these, why does the chop suey restaurant live on? Hui’s curiosity led to an 18-day cross-country road trip to investigate the genre. She’s expanded her two-part 2016 newspaper feature into a book, Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants, available February 5. In it, she discovers that her own parents ran two chop suey restaurants in British Columbia. What started as a long-distance food crawl morphs into an absorbing exploration of ancestral roots, identity and the deep familial bonds that keep the chop suey phenomenon alive.

Here are Hui’s top five Chinese restaurants in Canada, both old-school and new, and her recommendations on what to order.
 

Gold Stone Bakery and Restaurant

“If you want to try a restaurant that is classic Vancouver and classic Chinatown, Gold Stone is the place,” says Hui. She grew up visiting this Hong Kong-style café (cha chaan teng, in Cantonese) with her mother and grandma. With roots in British-occupied Hong Kong, its menu (which, like its dining room, seems never to change) is filled with hearty European-influenced dishes designed to be gulped down by factory workers on the go.

What to order: Hong Kong-style French toast. “It’s breakfast comfort food,” says Hui, “basically just thick slices of toast, dripping in condensed milk.”

139 Keefer St., Vancouver, 604-688-9328
 

Bing’s #1 Restaurant

A “quintessential small-town Chinese restaurant that’s the heart of the town,” says Hui, Bing’s is busy and filled with locals trading news any time of day. The ultimate proof that this is the town’s political nerve centre? Third-generation owner William Choy is also the town’s mayor.

What to order: Ginger beef. A classic of the Prairie chop suey cannon, it involves thin strips of beef, battered and deep-fried, with a sweet, slightly spicy sauce.

5005 50th St., Stony Plain, Alberta, 780-963-2609, bings1.com
 

Ling Lee’s Chinese Cuisine

“Peak Canadiana” is how Hui describes this Chinese chop suey buffet located inside the Port Arthur Curling Club in Thunder Bay. Load up your plate with fried rice and chop suey, a giant mural of curlers at play behind you. Take in the live curling action happening in front of and below you on the ice.

What to order: Bon Bon ribs, a Thunder Bay specialty. Ling Lee’s are coated with Chinese allspice powder, deep-fried, then spritzed with lemon.

214 Egan St., Thunder Bay, Ontario, 807-344-1441, lingleeschinesecuisine.com
 

Canton Restaurant

One of many chop suey joints in the province that serves chow mein in the long-standing Newfoundland style.

What to order: Chow mein, a tasty must-try because of the way that thin strips of green cabbage are swapped in for noodles. The first Chinese cooks in the region went carb- and gluten-free on this dish way before that was a thing, simply because the traditional egg noodles were impossible to procure. Ingenious and irrepressible, the dish “tells the story of this cuisine so perfectly,” says Hui.

6 Commerce St., Deer Lake, Newfoundland and Labrador, 709-635-8118
 

Yunshang Rice Noodle House

This growing international chain restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Yunnan Province, centred on “crossing the bridge” rice noodle soups (the name originates in an old folk tale) served in heavy earthenware bowls. Chicken, pork and beef bone broth is brought to the table boiling hot, with vegetable, meat or fish on the side for you to add.

What to order: Yunshang Rice Noodle Soup with Spicy Sauce, built on a typically mouth-numbing mala soup broth.

9-3229 Hwy. 7 E., Markham, Ontario, 905-604-5789, yunshang.ca
 

Bings #1 Restaurant

The dining room at Bing’s #1 Restaurant. That’s William Chow in the background – he works in the restaurant’s kitchen and is also the mayor of Stony Plain.

Bings #1 Restaurant

Three generations of the Choy family have run Bing’s #1 Restaurant in Stony Plain, AB.

Ling Lee’s Chinese Cuisine

Classic chop suey dishes are on offer at Ling Lee’s.

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FOOD & DRINK