Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada

Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada

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By Lily Cho
Cultural Spaces
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2010
World Rights
224 Pages
ISBN 9781442610408
Published Nov 2010
Online discount: 15%
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ISBN 9781442641051
Published Nov 2010
Online discount: 25%
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ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442659995
Published Nov 2010
Online discount: 15%
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"Chicken fried rice, sweet and sour pork, and an order of onion rings, please."

Chinese restaurants in small town Canada are at once everywhere - you would be hard pressed to find a town without a Chinese restaurant - and yet they are conspicuously absent in critical discussions of Chinese diasporic culture or even in popular writing about Chinese food. In Eating Chinese, Lily Cho examines Chinese restaurants as spaces that define, for those both inside and outside the community, what it means to be Chinese and what it means to be Chinese-Canadian.

Despite restrictions on immigration and explicitly racist legislation at national and provincial levels, Chinese immigrants have long dominated the restaurant industry in Canada. While isolated by racism, Chinese communities in Canada were still strongly connected to their non-Chinese neighbours through the food that they prepared and served. Cho looks at this surprisingly ubiquitous feature of small-town Canada through menus, literature, art, and music. An innovative approach to the study of diaspora, Eating Chinese brings to light the cultural spaces crafted by restaurateurs, diners, cooks, servers, and artists.

Lily Cho is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario.

List of Illustrations


  1. Sweet and Sour: Historical Presence and Diasporic Agency
  2. On the Menu: Time and Chinese Restaurant Counterculture
  3. Disappearing Chinese Cafe: White Nostalgia and the Public Sphere
  4. 'How taste remembers life': Diaspora and the Memories That Bind


Works Cited

This ingenious study of Chinese restaurants in small town Canada is as startling as it is brilliant ... Cho's deeply affective and moving ruminations serve a feast of critical insights on the politics of Chinese diasporas, old and new.

David L. Eng, Department of English, University of Pennsylvania

Eating Chinese presents an innovative analysis of small town Chinese restaurants and is a major contribution to research. Lily Cho's original approach to diaspora criticism, which is supported by distinctive examples, pries open the narrow identity politics that have constrained multicultural critical studies for the last decade.

Sneja Gunew, Department of English, University of British Columbia

Eating Chinese is a brilliant book, sensitively written, and grounded in a first-rate mastery of the archive. Lily Cho provides a path-breaking and immensely readable account of the ways in which food mediates the reception and reading of the Chinese diaspora in Canada and in the West generally. The work is a full nine-course Chinese banquet, written with the kind of sympathy which only a native informant can bring to the subject. Eating Chinese is one of the best books on diasporic lives and diaspora theory written these past few years.

Vijay Mishra, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Murdoch University

In Eating Chinese, the special on the menu is the dementia of diaspora, a palpable reading of memory and history located in the small town Chinese-Canadian restaurant. In shedding light on some of those "spaces where modernity sometimes stammers," Lily Cho usefully interrupts the states of mind that complicate the logic of migration and notions of home.

Fred Wah, author of Waiting for Saskatchewan and Diamond Grill

Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada is a fascinating look at the ways in which Chinese immigrants related to mainstream Canadians through the food they prepared and served ... Cho is an engaging, lively writer ... There is much for the general reader to enjoy in the book.

Bruce Ward, The Ottawa Citizen

‘Eating Chinese makes a major contribution to Chinese diaspora studies through its attention to small town Canada.’

Donald Goellnicht, Journal of Asian American Studies vol 15:2:2012

Eating Chinese challenges scholars of post colonialism and diasporas to consider how diasporic culture is forged beyond the limits of the cosmopolitan metropolis, at intersections of the past and the present… Her insightful readings of ostensibly disparate narratives enable her to carefully peel back their layers to reveal how identities and structures of power are constituted in and around what some might take to be the most unlikely of places.’

Jaclyn Rohel , Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies; vol26:2011

‘Eating Chinese is powerful and rare work of criticism… This book generously points us forward, inviting us to imagine how acts of remembering a past that is not yet past could help clarify “work that has yet to be done”.’

Guy Beauregard, Canadian Literature 219 winter 2013