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.