Have You Eaten Yet? Explores Global Chinese Restaurant Experiences

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According to Time, there are 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States; that's even more than there are McDonalds'. It's a stunning number considering the racism and xenophobia faced by Chinese immigrants when they arrived (via Slate). Ironically, when the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the Chinese restaurant industry blossomed under the special Visa status that allowed business owners to immigrate and bring their relatives (via Scholars Strategy Network).

However, Chinese migration was not limited to the United States. Writer and filmmaker Cheuk Kwan looks at the Chinese diaspora through the lens of family-run Chinese restaurants across the world in his new book "Have You Eaten Yet?: Stories from Chinese Restaurants Around the World." According to the press release, "Have You Eaten Yet?" is part-travelogue-part-memoir with Kwan mining the personal stories of the chefs and laborers working in restaurant kitchens in far-flung locales from the Amazon jungles to the Himalayas to more familiar ports of call like Saskatchewan.

Kwan titled the book after the casual greeting shared in China, telling Quill and Quire the phrase comes from a place of caring. He says, "Because of war, famine, and poverty, people in old China did not always have enough to eat. Perhaps that is how these words became an expression of concern for someone's well-being."

Have You Eaten Yet? looks at Chinese migration through food

The book is a natural extension of Kwan's documentary series "Chinese Restaurants," where he landed on five different continents and searched 15 different countries to chart Chinese migration through its food. While searching for authentic Chinese meals, he found stories of immigration and assimilation among the workers that ran the eateries (via The Tyee).

The filmmaker notes that the Chinese diaspora — and its cuisine — is wide and varied. He tells The Globe and Mail that the middle-classes migration to Canada in the 1940s brought more exacting standards to food. However, laborers who came to work the railroads the century prior were simply surviving day to day, and their go-to food, chop suey, reflected that struggle. Meanwhile, in Cuba, where migration was shut off in 1959, Chinese food and culture became nonexistent. Kwan relays the story of being directed to the best Chinese restaurant in Cuba, which served pizza, noting even then, the restaurant didn't lose its authenticity, saying, "It is, in a sense, a Chinese restaurant. You found something that customers want. It doesn't matter if it's Chinese or Italian. You serve it, and you prosper."

"Have You Eaten Yet?" arrives in bookstores on January 3.