Perhaps it happens in many cultures, but Helen Mo has only seen Asian and South Asian families hide death and illness from older relatives. "With one act, it’s possible to both love and disrespect," she writes in Don't Tell Grandma.Read More
Canice Leung has got pin-straight hair, the kind Chinese girls are born with, and the kind they pay lots of money to get. “It always seemed to me a bit like Hudson’s Bay traders selling beaver pelts back to the natives.”Read More
Jaime Woo is a Chinese guy, yet he can grow a beard. Weird. “In gay culture, men have decided to flee from the swishy, polished look of the late-90s and early naughts towards beards and tatts. I’m lucky, I guess, that my laziness happened to time in with the trend towards a more traditionally masculine look.”Read More
John Michael McGrath would like to share his 8 Simple Rules for Marrying a Chinese Woman except "it turns out there’s no one Chinese Girl TM out there to date and marry. They’re all different! My wife Vicki is even totally different from her sisters! It’s weird."Read More
By Chantal Braganza
A year ago I interviewed a brilliant and incredibly nice woman named Lily about a book she wrote. It’s called Eating Chinese; a perceptive look at how Chinese-owned restaurants in Canada both invigorated the country’s restaurant industry in the early 1900’s and, in some cases, created cuisines of their own. If you’re interested in food, immigration issues and Canadian history, this is a read I would suggest. Among many things, what Lily’s book does remarkably well is make a case for North American-Chinese cooking as a legitimate cuisine. And by North American-Chinese cooking, I mean the stuff no one ever thinks of as “authentic” anymore: egg rolls, chop suey, sweet & sour and moo shoo pork.
With time, our ideas in this part of the world about what food is change. Fifty years ago we’d go on dates and bring our kids to restaurants with such sino-colourful names as Gold Mountain or Red Dragon, awkwardly slurp a bowl of egg foo yong with these newfangled things called chopsticks and tell ourselves we were eating something exotic—the way everyone, every person, from all over the most populated country in the world, ate at home in China.
By the late nineties, and definitely now, to certain types of food lovers there is no such thing as Chinese (and yes, rightly so). There’s Szechuan, Hong Kong and Hunan, sure. Double points if you can pin what you’re eating to a specific city. Triple if the person who made it is actually from there.
Lily told me funny research stories about poring over archived menus, photos, even grocery orders while working on the thesis that later became a book. None of these made it to the story, which was kind of a shame.
One time, she looked at the grocery orders from a migrant Chinese cook who worked for a wealthy family in Alberta a long time ago. I never wrote down when. It wasn’t in a major city, so he would have had to send out orders weekly for the household’s food. She looked at what the cook was ordering and could figure out what kind of dishes the cook was making based on the ingredients. When more vinegar was being ordered, more sweet and sour dishes were happening. Bell peppers and onions for improvised stir-fries were a common occurrence. As with a number of Chinese restaurant owners who by the Second World War no longer felt they had to serve canned spaghetti and hot beef sandwiches to stay in business, this cook was simply using ingredients available with techniques he knew to make what he could.
“What’s so interesting about these kinds of Chinese restaurants,” Lily told me, “is that they take what that question of ‘What is Chinese?’ reveals, and they give it back to them. They say, well, ‘Here’s what you think real Chinese food is, and this is what we think you want.’ They were incredibly perceptive, these restaurant owners, at reading the communities they were in, and giving back to people a version of it.”
And you know what? That version’s actually pretty great if you know where to go. Try the chicken balls at China Gourmet, and tell me I’m wrong.
Gold Stone Noodle Restaurant on Spadina has been the source of my weekly Chinese food fix since before I can remember. When I started going there, it was a homely Chinatown hub that served up a cheap abundance of Southern Chinese delights. These days, it’s the same homely hub with the same delights, for only slightly more money. Over the years, I’ve developed that sought-after server-customer relationship: I say “the usual,” she brings me a steaming bowl of noodle soup with succulent Sui Kau dumplings stuffed with shrimp, pork and black fungus, alongside a light green bulb of bok choy and thick slices of barbecued pork and duck.Read More
By Denise Balkissoon
10. It used to make me mental when my parents pronounced my name the Trini way, DEN-eeez. I would prissily inform them it was duh-NEECE. Now I wish they would pronounce it their way. I miss it. Also I wish I could properly pronounce it the French way.
9. My brothers’ middle names are Imran and Hakim. Mine is Camille.
8. My parents don’t speak French.
7. When I was in high school, my Chinese boss made my Chinese co-worker pick an English name to use at work. This, in a very Chinese neighbourhood. Someone needs to make a clever t-shirt slogan about keeping your internalized racism off of me, thanks.
6. I’m very interested to know which of the GTA’s current immigrant waves are and aren’t assimilating their names. I tried to write a story about this, but the province would only give me last name trends, or first name trends. First-and-last was an invasion of privacy. Fair enough, but I wish I could get at least anecdotal evidence among, say, Tamils, a group of relative newcomers who have seriously non-Anglo names. Thai people have crazy funky names, too, but there aren’t as many around here. Anyway, if you have ideas how I might write this, let me know. Also, if you have an unwieldy ethnic name, keep it. Or don’t.
5. Last year I worked at the Star and there were four – count ‘em, four – brown female reporters. And our names were mixed up on a semi-regular basis. Generally by men.
4. My dad’s mom apparently gave me a Hindi name when I was born, but no one remembers it. This makes me a little sad.
3. I love how names can tell you so much about where and when a person is from. I was recently talking with a pregnant friend of mine about trendy old-fashioned names, and we joked about some that would never come back, and what she might name her son. “Heathcliff Wong!” she laughed. “That’s a real estate agent in Vancouver.”
2. I’m not too fussed about mispronouncing people’s names once or twice, or having them mispronounce mine.
1. That said, why do white people always say “Balkinson”? Hooked on Phonics worked for me!