“There’s a very intimate, close relationship between the Chinese and their food,” said author, filmmaker, and documentarian Cheuk Kwan. “It’s a fantastic way to explore Chinese culture through restaurants.” 

His book, Have You Eaten Yet? Stories from Chinese Restaurants Around the World, is an odyssey of discovery inspired by his own itinerant background: Hong Kong, where he was born; Singapore, where he grew up; Tokyo, where he spent his adolescence; Berkeley, California, where he learned about identity politics; and his current home, Toronto, Canada.  

Many of the cooks he profiled in his book found themselves especially if they did not initially speak the local language working in restaurants since it was the only work most could find and grasp quickly enough to earn a living.  These intrepid beings in search of upgraded lives carried with them hopes, dreams, and the Cantonese adage “Yat wok jau tin ngaii,” or “Journey to the sky’s edge with a wok.”

In some parts of China, when meeting people, a typical greeting is “Ni chī le ma?” or “Have you eaten yet?” a worldwide greeting among those of Chinese heritage, comparable to asking about one’s wellbeing, i.e., “How are you doing?” Regardless of the number of generations removed from the Middle Kingdom, it is a common greeting.

Kwan wandered the world sampling the best Chinese food that Trinidad, Kenya, Darjeelng, Mombasa and other earthly places had to offer. In the process, he uncovered unexpected insights in his all-consuming gastro-tourism adventure.  

Family-run Chinese restaurants, found in every corner of the world, are immigration outposts.  Ubiquitous, their cuisines have mega-morphed, becoming American, Cuban, Brazilian, Turkish, etc., through survival adaptations in relocated environments.  

Hyphenated Chinese dishes blending the foods of China with that of other countries, have become the new normal.  

Chifa, or fried rice, for example, is prevalent on menus of most Peruvian restaurants. In Madagascar, an East African island country, the national dish is “Soup Chinoise,” or Chinese soup. With over 40 million ethnic Chinese in the diasporas of the People’s Republic of China, the impact of Chinese food on the world is profound.

A ride across the world on the backs of immigrants, this 272-page book is an interesting read.  

Don’t bypass it.

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