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Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 2nd, 2019

The book written by Lily Cho consists of a detailed research into the culture of the Chinese and its integration with that of the Canadians. The author concentrates on the menus that are offered in small Chinese restaurants in Canada. In addition, Cho emphasizes that the Chinese menus have undergone major changes and modifications so as to integrate with the Canadian food culture.

The book delves into the role played by the restaurants in the cultural setting of the Canadian community. It looks into the ability of the restaurants to improve relationships by reducing discrimination and improving cross-cultural tolerance (Travis 1).

The writer also notes that the expansion of the Chinese Restaurants was accelerated in later years of the 20th century. This is due to the fact that the restaurant managers were allowed to include items that reflected their culture in terms of menus as well as signs close to the end of the century.

The author views the proprietors of the restaurants as major agents of cultural integration in the community. These have been noted to create opportunities for people to interact and relate for other reasons that are beyond the profit motive (Cho 126). Moreover, the book concedes that the menus in the Chinese restaurants are open to changes in accordance to the preferences of the public.

The writer utilizes various illustrations to bring out aspects of culture in the Diaspora. This is achieved through the exploration of the different food habits that characterize culture as portrayed by proprietors, cooks and waiters.

Further, the writer argues that the increased presence of Chinese restaurants allowed for social transformation. This was particularly crucial as it was needed for immigrants to be embraced in the community.

The enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1947 is viewed as an important milestone in the growth of the Chinese restaurant menus (Cho 72). The menus are however regarded as westernized due to the influence of the Canadian culture.

The book emphasizes further that despite the debate on whether the foods are traditional, the menus have had a great impact in the restaurant scene. The writer further explores other works by different authors to explain the point. For instance, she criticizes the works of Fred Wah on Chinese restaurants (Cho 132).

She indicates that the idea of Chineseness is debatable and insists that the restaurants have attained a specific place in the overall Canadian culture. It is clear that the writers’ goals include expounding on theories in the field of Diaspora research.

The author successfully brings out the two major cultures through explanations about public spaces. Further, the text encompasses other forms of art such as music by Joni Mitchell that was created in the context of the Chinese restaurants (Cho 82).

A more detailed analysis of the book however reveals various forms of controversies and debatable issues. For instance, despite focusing on the historical and conceptual aspects some factors are ignored. These include the lack of more information on the history of the immigrants that later become proprietors. In addition, the text diverts to other issues concerning the gender of the Chinese cooks that was often a controversial subject.

Moreover, the content ignores the ethnographical aspects that are brought out with major focus being directed at art. The book also pays little attention to aspects of human drama as the writer overlooks the works of novelists like Judy Fong Bates (Cho 132).

According to the author, the restaurant businesses are not only beneficial to individual families but also other immigrants in the community. This leads to the premise that the menus and food in these Chinese establishments are used to stamp a cultural presence in the long run. The book manages to bring out the fact that food like other forms of art constitutes a major part of a peoples’ culture.

The text also appreciates the position of food studies in the area of academics including ethnography and studies connected to anthropology. The writer additionally succeeds in bringing out detailed evidence about the concept of Chineseness and its reflection in the area of food.

The research is also reinforced by other author on the notion that the restaurants allow for Chineseness to be explored especially in the western world. The book qualifies its assertion that the idea of being Chinese has a place in other cultures including that of the Canadians. Thus, the writer is able to portray the Chinese identity as stable and sustainable.

It is apparent that the author has used a unique perspective in studying the Diaspora. This makes the book an interesting and educative read for culture enthusiast as well as academicians respectively. The suggestions made by the writer are well backed by evidence in the text. For example, the assertion that the Chinese menus reflect both the western and traditional cultures is well reflected in the book.

The text is further enhanced by the fact that small Chinese restaurants are still widespread in Canada. Additionally, the menus in these restaurants indicate a combination of both white and oriental cultures. The author has also been able to effectively utilize the works of other writers and artists to strengthen the argument. These include the view that food and memory are related.

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1. IvyPanda. "Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu." July 2, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/eating-chinese-culture-on-the-menu/.


IvyPanda. "Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu." July 2, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/eating-chinese-culture-on-the-menu/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu." July 2, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/eating-chinese-culture-on-the-menu/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu'. 2 July.

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