Food Culture: “Eating Chinese” a Book by Lily Cho


Lily Cho’s key works focus on the issues of immigrants and citizenship in Canada. Cho has authored several books with comparable thematic focus. Some of her works include “Future perfect loss: Richard Fung’s Sea in the Blood” (Cho 3). She talks of losses that are yet to come. Diaspora subject comes out of the anticipated loss to the citizens facing racism in a foreign land. The culture, family values and memory transmission will eventually be lost. This leads to a problem of family continuity.

Lily Cho also writes about belonging to a place naturally. “In her book, Diaspora and Indigeneity”, Cho perceives Diaspora as a model of colonization” (Cho 18). Diaspora is not a privilege to immigrants. The relationship between the native inhabitants and the immigrants come to scrutiny. Whereas the immigrants are losing their roots and culture, the native people still subject them to a form of discrimination. This book is an attempt to explore the relationship between the natives and the immigrants.


In this book, Lily Cho focuses on Chinese restaurants dominating Canada despite tough rules and racism legislations on immigrants. The book depicts how the Chinese restaurants are in every corner of Canada, yet the public rarely mention Chinese restaurants. “They serve delicacies such as chicken fried rice, sweet and sour pork, and an order of onion rings” (Cho 55). According to Cho, these restaurants play a primary role of defining what a Chinese is and what it means to be a Chinese immigrant in Canada. They have the history of Chinese immigrants.

Canadian racist legislative restricts Chinese immigrants. Nonetheless, the Chinese have grappled to control the restaurant industry in Canada. The Chinese forged ties with their neighbors through the food they prepared. Moreover, Cho focuses on how restaurant menus, artists, cooks and the culture of the Chinese have enabled them to survive society where racism is prevalent.

History of Chinese Restaurants

“Most of the Chinese immigrants brought with them their traditional cooking skills” (Cho 23). She traces the first café built by the Chinese in New Dayton. It is this business of cooking and serving both the Chinese and non-Chinese in Canada, which made the Chinese keep in touch with their neighbors despite the strict colonial rules. Cho uses food as a symbol of unity and expression.

Cho notes that it would be impossible to move in modernity without Chinese restaurants in Canada. Canada is changing, but prairie is dying. Therefore, the only place one can find proper beef dip sandwiches is at a Chinese restaurant. She contends that “the Chinese restaurant poses a problem for a modernity that wants to move on without it” (Cho 7). Her concern is that, despite Chinese restaurants being almost in every corner of small towns in Canada, public hardly mentioned them. The contemporary literature does not discuss Chinese immigration, Diasporas and Canadian multiculturalism. Cho portrays how a large part of the Chinese immigrants’ history is dying. This is because the public neither discuss Chinese history in the contemporary literature nor mention it in popular books.

The book tries to address the issue of premature death of Chinese restaurants, which still exist. Cho identifies the difficulties associated with maintaining the old Chinese restaurants in the Diaspora. Restaurants serve as a significant Chinese Diaspora identity. The pictures used for illustrations are from unnamed sources. Hence, they never continued any date to indicate the timeframe in history. It shows what is missing in the history of the Chinese immigrants that traveled to Canada.

“The Chinese were among the earliest non-white immigrants in Canada” (Cho 20”. In the 1880s, the opening of Caribou goldfields attracted many Chinese to Canada. The Canadian installation of proper Railway further facilitated the migration of several Chinese to Canada. They moved and settled in different parts of Canada. They soon became the target of the native people; the British who had conquered Canada. British had ardent desire of ruling the entire territory of Canada. In Canada, the British colonialists reigned over the Chinese. There was an anti-British insurgency.

The Chinese used arsenic loaves to poison a large number of European communities (Cho 20). Racial ideals continued to oppress the Chinese who were most driven by it. The Chinese who served as railway constructors had extremely little choice. The labor provisions in Canada enabled the colonialists to exploit the Chinese migrant workers. The Chinese immigrants could also not participate in any democratic process. For instance, they lacked suffrage rights. Consequently, they relied on power brokers as demonstrated by Lisa Rose Mar in her book, “Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885 to 1945” (Cho 15).

Diaspora Criticism

In this case, Cho has taken an initiative to analyze at length the life in the Diaspora. The Chinese immigrants have a rich history of colonial oppressions and dislocations of colonialism and imperialism in its many forms. The Diaspora exhibits memories that bind. Cho examines how the undermined Chinese immigrants’ culture, enriched the mainstream culture of Canada. She is contributing to the few available theories that dominate the study of Diaspora. She refers to the work of other authors like Jürgen Habermas, songs set in the Chinese restaurants and installations that demonstrate the feeling of being in a Chinese restaurant. “Cho also uses the menu from Alberta Chinese restaurant” (Cho 22).

Cho highlights Chinese restaurants at various levels in this book to show the dissimulation and not assimilation. This shows excessive greed fixed in the restaurants’ menu. There is a difference between the food on the menu and the food served. The menus are symbolic accounts of what it meant to be a Chinese immigrant in Canada. There were restrictive immigration laws and multiculturalism issues. The menus in this book reflect the socio-political situations of being a Chinese in Canada (Cho 52).

The Diamond Grill menu of the 1950s explains a period of transition from the policy of exclusion. Canadian food is only well defined in the small town restaurants of the Chinese. One way of defining the Diaspora theory of the Chinese immigrants is through food. This is due to the widespread serving of the Canadian food in every Chinese restaurant (Cho 53).

Cho does not provide the exact history of the Diaspora of early Chinese immigrants. She does not like to refer to history, and when she does, she only uses history to convey humor. For example, the story of a Chinese woman lumbers’ camp cook masqueraded as a male. This could imply that Cho ignored much history and experience in the Diaspora of the early Chinese immigrants.

Cho uses food as a means to mediate between Chinese immigrants and their colonial masters. She shows how menus in the restaurants transmit the Chinese history of the Diaspora. Restaurants menus become the means of providing Chinese theory of Diaspora, by making the book memorable and easy to read. She covers both the politics of the old and modern Chinese immigrants of Canada. Food enabled the Chinese immigrants to retain their cultural identity at a time when the colonial forces were extremely oppressive.

Several scholars have given accounts of the Chinese immigrants’ struggle to survive in Canada. Nonetheless, scholars have little information about the Chinese encounters in the Diaspora. In fact, remarkably little criticism of the Diaspora theories exists.


Cho employs a number of literary techniques to achieve effectiveness and authority of her key massages in her work. She cleverly utilizes illustrations and photographs with no sources or dates. This portrays the break down in history of the Chinese immigrants in Canada. Cho uses as photographs as symbols. She uses them to trace the history of early Chinese immigrants’ restaurants in Canada. This is the only way Cho is tracing the history of Chinese immigrants in the Diaspora. They bring nostalgic memories of the past bound by sadness.

Cho borrows heavily from other authors. For example, she relied on ancient history illustrations in authoring her book. This gives Cho’s work some authenticity. She tries to trace the history of the early Chinese immigrants’ poisoning European communities who feasted on their freshly baked bread with arsenic. She uses history to show the clash between the British colonialists and the colonized Chinese. The song portrays Chinese caught in the middle age during the transition period after liberation (Cho 85).

Cho applies paradox to show the disappearing and yet present Chinese restaurant in Canada. Restaurants are unusually visible yet invisible. The Chinese held their Diaspora history through their food and restaurants. They were able to influence the colonialists and the native people of Canada through their cooking. This was the only viable way the Chinese were able to retain their culture. As time goes by, this culture is dying slowly. This is because modernity threatens the Chinese culture. The desire for modernity has overshadowed the conservatism. The once thriving Chinese institution of restaurants now started fading, and they could only look back with sad memories (Cho 85). Mitchell and Tyson’s song connect the intimate, yet painful dying Chinese restaurants (Cho 95). Chinese restaurants also represent the past, which is firmly struggling to fit into the present.

The Chinese restaurant menus’ are symbols of different times in history of Diaspora Chinese experience. The Exclusion Act of 1923 had its menu. The period of multiculturalism after the abolition of Exclusion Act also had its menu. It is the menu used in the Diamond Grill during the 1950’s.


In conclusion, a review of Cho’s book reveals a culture which is on the verge of disappearance (Cho 51). However, this is not the case since if an individual goes around small towns he will see the Chinese restaurants, with some Chinese working in them. Modernity is threatening their existence. Cho notes that the modern town needs them since they are part of the history. Chinese restaurants still stand reflecting the history of the Diaspora.

The book reviews the theory and concept of Diaspora. Not many scholars have dwelt on this subject as necessary. In fact, criticisms of Diaspora theories are missing. Chinese restaurants are Diaspora counter-public. Diaspora counter-public is a creation whereby relations to power are present and always negotiated. The only form of passage which brings the Diaspora community is the form of the message they all understand; the food (Cho 107).

The Chinese in the Diaspora are not quite sure of their authenticity or any connection to their ancestral or original roots. The only way they can experience their cultural is through the songs of Mitchell and Tyson. They also have restaurants that indicate a sense of publicity.

Cho contributes adequately to the gap missing in the academic arena of Diaspora theory and works. She laments of rich and disappearing culture of the early Chinese immigrants. Cho presents her work symbolically through the use of food, menus and restaurants. She uses food as a symbol which serves to bring both the British colonialists and Chinese immigrants together. Cho also uses food as a means or a common language which Chinese come together. They use the restaurants to stress their history in foreign lands. This technique serves to deliver the author’s arguments.

The book significantly describes the effectiveness of the author through the use of language. Cho uses different symbols, images, history, and references from other artists to deliver her message. These features make the book readable and easy to understand. However, Cho does not fully explore the Chinese history in Canada. Hence, readers may not have the real picture of what she presents in her literary work. Probably, this was not her agenda in the book. The fact that she borrows from other writers show her inability to conduct her own thorough research. All in all, the book provides a valuable insight in understanding the theory of Diaspora experience.

Ultimately, the author achieves her goal of criticism of Diaspora history, which in her view, is gradually dying. The book is effective in delivery of this argument.

Works Cited

Cho, Lily. Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Web.

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