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Biography & Autobiography Asian & Asian American

Chop Suey Nation

The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants

by (author) Ann Hui

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Feb 2019
Asian & Asian American, General, Essays
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2019
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In 2016, Globe and Mail reporter Ann Hui drove across Canada, from Victoria to Fogo Island, to write about small-town Chinese restaurants and the families who run them. It was only after the story was published that she discovered her own family could have been included—her parents had run their own Chinese restaurant, The Legion Cafe, before she was born. This discovery, and the realization that there was so much of her own history she didn’t yet know, set her on a time-sensitive mission: to understand how, after generations living in a poverty-stricken area of Guangdong, China, her family had somehow wound up in Canada.


Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants weaves together Hui’s own family history—from her grandfather’s decision to leave behind a wife and newborn son for a new life, to her father’s path from cooking in rural China to running some of the largest “Western” kitchens in Vancouver, to the unravelling of a closely guarded family secret—with the stories of dozens of Chinese restaurant owners from coast to coast. Along her trip, she meets a Chinese-restaurant owner/small-town mayor, the owner of a Chinese restaurant in a Thunder Bay curling rink, and the woman who runs a restaurant alone, 365 days a year, on the very remote Fogo Island. Hui also explores the fascinating history behind “chop suey” cuisine, detailing the invention of classics like “ginger beef” and “Newfoundland chow mein,” and other uniquely Canadian fare like the “Chinese pierogies” of Alberta.


Hui, who grew up in authenticity-obsessed Vancouver, begins her journey with a somewhat disparaging view of small-town “fake Chinese” food. But by the end, she comes to appreciate the essentially Chinese values that drive these restaurants—perseverance, entrepreneurialism and deep love for family. Using her own family’s story as a touchstone, she explores the importance of these restaurants in the country’s history and makes the case for why chop suey cuisine should be recognized as quintessentially Canadian.

About the author

Ann Hui is The Globe and Mail’s National Food Reporter and uses food as a lens to explore public policy, health, the environment, science and technology. Before she joined The Globe, her writing was published in the Walrus, the National Post, the Toronto Star and the Victoria Times Colonist. Hui lives in Toronto, ON.

Ann Hui's profile page


  • Winner, Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction
  • Winner, International Association of Culinary Professionals' Cookbook Awards: Literary/Historical Food Writing
  • Winner, Taste Canada Award Winners: Culinary Narratives - Gold
  • Short-listed, IACP Cookbook Award - Literary/Historical Food Writing
  • Winner, Dr. Edgar Wickberg Book Prize - Best Book on Chinese Canadian History
  • Winner, Gourmand World Cookbook Awards - Chinese cooking and food writing
  • Long-listed, Toronto Book Awards

Editorial Reviews

“Terrific book”

Leslie Wu,

“One of my favourite reads this year…”

Sean Loughran,

“...Ultimately, read Chop Suey Nation not only for its window into this familiar cuisine, but also because reading it means understanding that these small, family-run restaurants are an integral part of Chinese immigration in this country. That these families, Hui’s included, survived and established a sense of community amidst racial tensions and cultural discomfort. That these small town and rural restaurants are at the heart of Canada’s relationship to itself, to its identity.”

Lauren R. Korn. NB Media Co-op

“Hui is a storyteller at heart and a very good one at that.”

Imogene Lim, <i>The Ormsby Review</i>

“With grace and extraordinary insight, Ann Hui weaves her own family’s history with the personal stories behind small-town Canada’s chop suey houses. You can’t help but feel as you’re reading that within these pages lies the history of an entire nation. A surprising, occasionally heartbreaking, and ultimately gorgeous read.”

Chris Nuttall-Smith, food writer, restaurant critic and Top Chef Canada judge

“ entertaining look at how Chinese food evolved to become quintessentially Canadian.... The author packs her pages full (in Chinese, ‘bao’) of interesting information charmingly related.... The straightforwardness of the writing is praiseworthy...much to enjoy in Hui’s narrative.”

Dan K. Woo, <i>Quill and Quire</i>

“...a fascinating blend of history, cultural commentary, road trip, personal narrative and mouth-watering food depictions…. Her prose is distinguished by subtlety and restraint. She demonstrates a panoptic empathy for the owners of these small-town restaurants...a poignant excavation of her family’s hidden and fragmented past. Spinning binary narratives that traverse place and time, Hui alternates between the historical and socio-political backdrops of China and Canada…. Hui has a knack for discovering the quirkiest people and places.Chop Suey Nation is an astonishing cultural and important personal history. It is a complex mélange of invigorating stories, sympathetic real-life characters and nuanced reportage. Hui intricately weaves the real-life sacrifices of many Chinese immigrants into a deeply felt and resonating anthropological tapestry.”

Lindsay Wong, <i>Globe and Mail</i>

Chop Suey Nation is a peek into the universal experience of immigrants making a life through food. ‘Why,’ asks journalist Ann Hui, ‘are there Chinese restaurants in small towns across Canada?’ An intriguing journey for answers becomes interspersed with a moving memoir of her father’s life. Now I crave chop suey.”

Lucy Waverman, <i>Globe and Mail</i> food columnist and co-author of <i>The Flavour Principle</i>

“Part memoir, part history and part road trip, Ann Hui’s Chop Suey Nation is easy to love. The story weaves through families and countries, exploring culture and cuisine through restaurants across Canada—and in her own home. Guaranteed to charm you and make you hungry.”

Mark Bittman, author of the How to Cook Everything series and former <i>New York Times</i> columnist

Chop Suey Nation is an absorbing, eye-opening read for anyone...”

Michael Scouler, <i>Montecristo Magazine</i>

“...makes for great reading while you’re motoring through Canada.”

Susan B. Cole, <i>Now Magazine</i>

“This engaging tour of small-town Asian restaurants derives emotional heft from descriptions of the heroic struggles of immigrants—including, as the author discovers as an adult, her own parents—dishing up Canadian-friendly ‘Chinese’ dishes... .Her probe yields another important story illustrating how discriminatory policies devastated so many Chinese families.”

Patricia Hluchy, <i>Maclean's Magazine</i>

“The book itself is a thoughtful chop suey, with chapters leaping through three moving odysseys.... Readers are welcomed into the dining rooms of eateries both humble and lavish. Thanks to Hui’s skill at connection, you’ll feel like you’re sitting with her as she meets the owners face-to-face, hearing their voices and stories, sacrifices and joys…. Hui writes with empathy, presenting these people as they are, and tying them to a bigger Canadian story.”

Christopher Cheung, <i>The Tyee</i>

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