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Canadian Chinese cuisine facts for kids

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Canadian Chinese cuisine (French: Cuisine chinoise canadienne) is a popular style of Canadian cooking exclusive to take-out and dine-in eateries found across Canada. It was the first form of commercially available Chinese food in Canada. This cooking style was invented by early Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional Chinese recipes to Western tastes and the available ingredients. This cuisine developed in a similar process to American Chinese cuisine.


Chinese quarters in Toronto, (Ontario.) - Quartier chinois de Toronto, Ontario
Signage in Toronto's First Chinatown for chop suey in 1923. Canadian Chinese cuisine dates back to the late 1800s.

Chinese workers were employed in the 1800s by Chinese labour contractors during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway linking Montreal, Québec with Vancouver, British Columbia. Many of those workers who stayed once the railway was completed resorted to opening small inexpensive restaurants or working as cooks in mining and logging camps, canneries, and in the private homes of the upper classes in cities and towns. They prepared variations on traditional Cantonese food that were well received by local patrons, and they were prized as cooks in wealthier households. This occurred despite the fact that few if any of them were formally trained chefs.

In most small towns in Western Canada, the Chinese "café" was the first restaurant established, and often the only one. People did not buy the foods of their own ethnic group since they could prepare these themselves, whereas Chinese food was a novelty. Furthermore, the Chinese community was not heavily involved in agriculture, so this presented an opportunity for an alternative source of income. Consequently, the Chinese community specialized in the restaurant business, and were able to undercut and out-compete later rivals. These Chinese restaurants became an icon of Prairie towns and served as a foothold for a new Canadian community, and this history is displayed in a new exhibit called Chop Suey on the Prairies at the Royal Alberta Museum.

In British Columbia, a form of buffet known as the "Chinese smörgåsbord" developed in pre-railway Gastown (the settlement that became Vancouver) when Scandinavian loggers and millworkers encouraged their Chinese cooks to turn a sideboard into a steam table, instead of bringing plates of single dishes to the dining table.

Following the introduction of the automobile and the drive-in restaurant, Chinese take-out service was augmented by Chinese drive-ins, including the now-vanished "Dragon Inn" chain, which was also known for its smörgåsbord.

Bill Wong, father of journalist Jan Wong, was a serial restaurateur in Montreal who reportedly opened the city's first Chinese buffet restaurant, "House of Wong" on Queen Mary Road in the heavily-Jewish Snowdon district in the 1950s. He later opened the now-closed iconic restaurant "Bill Wong's" on nearby Decarie Boulevard in 1962.


Roasted geese are put on display in Toronto's Old Chinatown. Roast goose is a popular Cantonese dish that is also served by Canadian Chinese restaurateurs.

Further Cantonese immigration to Canada began anew in the 1960s, and was ignited in the 1980s in anticipation of China's administrative take-over of Hong Kong. This resulted in many Hong Kong families relocating to Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and above all Canada.

This preference for Canada was due to its immigration policy, a high-standard of living, established Chinese community, and its membership in the Commonwealth. In contrast, the United States tended to accept more mainland or Taiwanese Chinese, while imposing immigration quotas on Commonwealth countries such as Hong Kong.

Today's Chinese Canadian citizens are the largest visible minority group in Canada, and Chinatowns are in every major Canadian city except Quebec City, with those in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary being the largest. (For more, read Chinatowns in Canada)

This new wave of Chinese immigration has also brought a demand for more authentic Chinese food. The newer Chinese restaurants, particularly in areas of high Asian immigration, tend to serve authentic Chinese cuisine that evolved in Chinese communities outside Canada, which cater to immigrants. These range from Cantonese dim sum restaurants to Hakka cuisine restaurants with a South Asian flair.

Canadian Chinese restaurants

Nipigon China Gardens
A Canadian Chinese restaurant in Nipigon, Ontario, a community of approximately 1,600 people. Canadian Chinese restaurants may be found in communities of all sizes in Canada.

Even very small towns in most of Canada have at least one Canadian Chinese restaurant, and many[examples needed] can have two or more proprietors seeking out business, often right next to each other on the main street. Many towns that cannot support a single franchise restaurant still have a thriving Chinese food restaurant. However, many independent restaurants in larger cities have found their business shrinking as delivery chains and buffets squeeze out traditional sit-down restaurants.

In many towns and hamlets across the prairie provinces and in northern British Columbia, there can usually be found a Chinese café regardless of the community's size, serving "Canadian and Chinese cuisine" or, once more common, "Chinese and Western Food". In Glendon, Alberta, for example, next to a roadside model of the world's largest perogy (a staple of Ukrainian cuisine), sits the Perogy Café, which serves "Ukrainian and Chinese Perogies" (meaning pot stickers). This establishment is actually owned by a Vietnamese family.

Canadian Chinese chop suey houses are predominantly situated in non-immigrant neighbourhoods catering to non-Chinese customers. However, they are now most often mixed with those featuring the more traditional cuisines.

Canadian Chinese restaurants are not limited to these areas and can often be found even at the farthest outskirts of the metropolitan areas. Because of the popularity of Canadian Chinese food, even some of the older authentic Chinese restaurants may offer Canadian Chinese dishes to cater to non-Chinese customers.

A sign for businesses, including Canadian Chinese restaurants in the Golden Village. The Golden Village holds the largest concentration of Chinese restaurants in North America.

Restaurants in the newer Chinatowns, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, tend to cater to recent Asian immigrants and offer more varied fare; Szechuan, Hakka, Chiuchow, Taiwanese, and even Buddhist cuisine restaurants can be found there. One of the largest concentration of Chinese restaurants in North America is located in the Golden Village area in Richmond, BC, a suburb of Vancouver, BC. The seafood served here is from the British Columbian coast.

Toronto's Old Chinatown has seen most of the once-famed restaurants on Dundas Street and Spadina Avenue close since the late 1990s, especially the Siu mei barbecue shops on Dundas Street that were located below grade. The 1990s also saw the closure of demise of Hsin Huang (or Hsin Kuang), a three-restaurant chain in the Greater Toronto Area, offering dim sum, Siu mei, and formal Chinese dining.

These restaurants, one at Chinese Centre at 888 Dundas Street East in Mississauga, another at Finch Avenue and Kennedy Road in Scarborough, and their four-storey flagship location at Spadina Avenue and St. Andrew Street (just north of Dundas Street) in old Toronto Chinatown, were decorated inside with the traditional red and yellow colours of the Fenghuang while the exterior was yellow and had a green Oriental roof.

In the newer suburban areas of the Greater Toronto Area, such as Highway 7 in Richmond Hill and Markham, the Chinese restaurants range from small eateries, Siu mei BBQ shops, and bakeries in Chinese strip malls and food courts, to the all-you-can-eat buffets that often expand beyond Chinese-Canadian to incorporate Asian fusion (including Japanese, Korean, and Thai), to the larger and more expensive places that often function as banquet halls with ten-course meals available.

A food court oriented towards Asian cuisine at First Markham Place in Markham, Ontario

Among upscale restaurants, the older places will often have the traditional Chinese decor, which is red and yellow colours with the Fenghuang (Chinese dragon and phoenix) adorning the wall behind the dais, however newer establishments tend to be decorated in a more Western contemporary style.

Many of these fine dining restaurants and banquet halls often offer discounted dim sum lunches on weekdays and early weekends or to seniors, though this is a low margin segment, and their main earnings come from hosting weddings or other functions. Observers have noted that dim sum "cart service is a dying breed in Toronto, as more and more restaurants have switched over to a list-based dining experience. There are a few notable places where you can still witness these magical culinary carts being rolled out in front of you; and where you order by using your pointer finger, not a pen and paper."

Although most restaurants are independent businesses, there are some chains such as "Hons Wonton House" (metro Vancouver), "Kirin Chinese Restaurant" (metro Vancouver), "Congee Wong" (Toronto and York region) and "Mandarin Restaurant" (southern Ontario). The "Regal Palace" chain of four restaurants, owned by Yuk Yee Ellen Pun and Patsy Lai, went bankrupt and ceased operations in 2013 while owing 60 employees $676,000 in unpaid wages. Imitation restaurants include Ding Tai Fung (which is intentionally similar to Din Tai Fung) in First Markham Place and Hutaoli Music Restaurant & Bar in Bridlewood Mall.


Ginger Beef
Ginger beef is an example of a unique Canadian Chinese dish, which was developed in Calgary during the 1970s.

Josephine Smart, a professor from the University of Calgary, has written on the evolution of Canadian Chinese cuisine. Her papers have examined the dynamics of localization and "authenticization" of Chinese food in Canada, and its implications for ethnic relations and the culture of consumption.

Chinese restaurants generally use either one of the romanization systems for Cantonese or an ad hoc romanization rather than the Pinyin romanization of Mandarin Chinese with which non-Chinese people are now most familiar.

Foam take-out containers are commonly used by Canadian Chinese restaurants for take-out, although some restaurants use special plastic containers. Aluminum pan pie dishes were previously used until the late 1990s, when they fell out of favour due to high costs and environmental concerns. As opposed to their American counterparts, the use of the oyster pail is less common in Canadian Chinese restaurants.

Although the Canadian version of westernized Chinese cuisine is very similar to that found in the United States, there are a few distinctive regional dishes:

  • Ginger beef: deep fried strips of beef coated in a dark sweet sauce featuring ginger, garlic, and hot peppers, commonly served with a small amount of julienned carrots and onions. Ginger beef is derived from the original Geung Ngao Yuk (Chinese: 薑牛肉) dish. Ubiquitous in Calgary and common across the Canadian Prairies. The invention of ginger beef is claimed by several restaurants and chefs, but is generally traced back to George Wong at the Silver Inn in Calgary in the mid-1970s.
  • Newfoundland chow mein: a regional variant made with thinly sliced cabbage instead of egg noodles due to historical difficulties in accessing authentic Chinese ingredients in Atlantic Canada.
  • Montreal peanut-butter dumplings: a dish consisting of wonton or jiaozi covered with peanut, honey, and soy-sauce based sauce, most likely based-on the Sichuan dish hongyou chaosho (紅油抄手, lit. folded-dumplings in red-oil) and reinterpreted for the tastes of Montrealers. Also known as Hunan dumplings, the dish was likely created in the 1980s at a restaurant "le Piment Rouge" and quickly became popular throughout Chinese and Thai restaurants in Montreal and later Québec.
  • Thunder Bay bon bons: a salty, deep-fried rib dish that is said to go well with beer, invented in the 1940s by Thunder Bay Chinese restaurateur Lam Pang and now ubiquitous in Thunder Bay's Chinese restaurants. The ribs are chopped, marinated overnight in ingredients including salt, sugar, and five-spice powder, dipped in eggs, and coated with bread or crushed crackers before frying.
  • Fried macaroni: stir-fried macaroni with soy sauce, meat, and vegetables served in Québec.
  • Green onion cake: A flat breaded cake that is made with scallions. It is a popular dish in Edmonton that was introduced by Siu To, a restaurateur who brought Northern Chinese delicacies to the city.

For more expensive or formal occasions, Chinese Canadians may seek out more authentic Chinese cuisine. A Chinese wedding reception typically has nine or ten courses. Expensive dishes such as shark fin, abalone, lobster, jumbo shrimp, squab, sea bass, or sea cucumber are common on a wedding banquet menu. A whole cooked fish, chicken, or pig means luck and completeness in Chinese wedding culture.

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