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Of course you realize this means wor tips

Seth Roberts is right, and whoever is blogging for the Economist is wrong, as he (or she) would suspect if he lived under the broad blue skies of Alberta. The Chinese came to the Canadian West in great waves to build the CPR and other railroads in the late 19th century; for the most part they were, to say the least, neither expected nor encouraged to stay when the work was done. A few did, though, and as happened elsewhere, they often got into the restaurant trade. They didn't do so because a "concentration" of Chinese-Canadian population "created demand" for Chinese cuisine; if that had been so, there would have arisen just as many Ukrainian, German, Scottish, and Dutch restaurants. In fact, the Chinese food entrepreneurs tended to seek out new markets away from their original domiciles, such that every medium-sized town on the Canadian prairies, for most of the 20th century, possessed exactly one Chinese family whose business was running the local Chinese restaurant. I'm sure the tale has been much the same in other sparsely-settled frontier areas of the world.

The real factors that led to the ubiquity of Chinese food in Alberta and elsewhere are, pace Free Exchange, specific to the Chinese experience and the Chinese menu. As Roberts explains, Chinese restarauteurs were not seen to be taking away white men's jobs, and were thus in no danger of being chased out of town with a twelve-gauge in a time of otherwise profound anti-Chinese hostility. Cooking was a "safe" occupation, as were, in the same respect, laundering, gambling, and opium dealing. (Sorry: they're old-timey clichés for a reason.) Chinese cooking also lent itself, in ways other diaspora cuisines didn't, both to the use of low-priced varieties and cuts of meat and to the early adoption of a home-delivery model.

Some of the inherent market advantages of the Chinese chow-house are visible down to this day: they tend to remain open on major holidays, for instance, providing an attractive refuge for those who can't or won't cook and aren't being cooked for. And they continue to exert a mysterious magnetic influence on diaspora Jews—possibly a non-trivial factor in an uncivilized land with a few openly Jewish settlers and an enormous number of Eastern European emigrants whose names suddenly anglicized overnight in the steerage section of an ocean liner.


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Comments (9)



A similar thing happened in small town Ontario in the 50's/60's/70's before people went to big chain restaurants and box stores came to many towns. Lots of small towns had a Golden Dragon or a Golden Palace, or in my mother's hometown of Mount Forest, a Checker Inn. (she had no explanation for why the chinese restaurant was not named after a chinese theme, but I understand that it also sold a 'Canadian' menu of burgers/shakes/grilled cheese to augment the egg rolls and chow mein).

Eric Grant:

Yadda yadda railroad small town Chinese restaurant. That's Human Geography 101, and seems to play out across the world. I find it preposterous that anyone would think that the food served in your traditional "Chinese and Canadian cuisine" restaurant was designed to please the pallet of people homesick for home-style Guandong cooking.

What I want to know is if it's true that sweet and sour chicken balls are really (as I've been led to believe) as specifically Canadian as poutine and butter tarts.


And let's not forget ginger beef, he chimes in from Calgary.

As to Chinese restaurants in small town Ontario, there is a village, with a 401 exit sign, called Yarker. I've always dreamed that it had a Chinese restaurant, which would be called the Yarker Cafe. And that in the course of time the family owning it would sell it on, and as a condition of the sale require a change of name. And that as a result it's now called the New Yarker Cafe.

Needless to say I've never dared visit and see if it's actually so. Some dreams are too beautiful to crush with cold reality.


I never knew that about the chicken balls. But I remember that I looked for them on a menu at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas in the Bellagio and not finding them (there was sweet & sour pork). We just concluded that the place was too 'authentic' and upscale for the chicken balls. We were right & wrong at the same time.

My vague recollection is that the Chinese had a long headstart over Europeans in both commercial restaurants and laundries. I believe Chinese restaurants were one of the reasons the Mongols decided not to burn down China and turn it into pasture for horses.

The Chinese certainly had higher standards of cooking than the English, Scottish, and Irish, so it's hardly surprising that Chinese restaurants would prove popular in Canada.

okhropir rumiani:

Yes, Steve, perhaps the only cuisine English and Scottish cuisine beats is Russian cuisine which are all pretty low on the scale.

Compared to that Chinese food is great!

And now we have Jennifer 8. Lee swearing that Vancouver hosts the best Chinese restaurant outside of China (it's called Zen), and after dinner there tonight, I can only say it's possibly the best Chinese food I've ever eaten.

Didn't notice any sweet and sour chicken balls on the menu, though.

Do not go to a Chinese restaurant in Scotland and order chicken balls. They will laugh at you. Or so I've heard.


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