Have You Eaten Yet?

Have You Eaten Yet coverHave You Eaten Yet: Stories from Chinese Restaurants Around the World
Cheuk Kwan
read by Brian Nishii
Blackstone Publishing (January 13, 2023), 9 hours and 18 minutes
(print edition published by Pegasus Books)
$13.99 for Audible members, more for nonmembers
purchased with an Audible credit

Author Cheuk Kwan is of Chinese descent, was born in Hong Kong, has lived in Japan and Singapore, and eventually immigrated to Canada where he made his permanent home. Kwan, therefore, naturally takes a global perspective.

Although Have You Eaten Yet was just released this year, the book documents Kwan’s travels as he filmed a documentary in the early 2000s about Chinese people and the restaurants they ran around the world. The first chapter, however, describes a more recent trip he took to attend the funeral of a restaurant owner in rural Saskatchewan whom he had known for many years. Kwan shares his memories of the man, known as Noisy Jim and his life in the community. The locals loved Jim and would hang out in his restaurant. Jim, though Chinese, was not interested in serving authentic Chinese food; his menu contained the dishes that the locals enjoyed. Jim was clearly an integral part of his community.

In the remainder of the book Kwan takes us on a tour to cities and towns around the world where Chinese people opened and ran restaurants. He visited proprietors and their families in Israel, Africa, Turkey, South America, and even Norway. Some of these people left China legally, others illegally. Some left before the Maoist revolution of 1949, others after. Many had ties to Taiwan. Some of the younger people were born in the country to which their parents migrated.

There is a wide range of philosophy about the dishes these people served. Some strove for authenticity, while others adapted their dishes to the tastes of the locals. In Peru, the infusion of Chinese cooking was so great and so widely adopted that the distinction between Peruvian and Chinese cuisine has become blurred. Likewise, the individual stories vary greatly. Many of the people Kwan interviewed loved their adopted country while others would have preferred to return to China or Hong Kong. There are plenty of tales of arranged marriages and of men who left their families in China, finding a new wife and starting a new family in their adopted country.

Kwan admires chef Ken Hom, who introduced the British to Chinese cooking with the TV series Chinese Cookery in the 1980s. His epilogue recounts a Zoom conversation with Hom in 2021, in which they share thoughts about Chinese cooking and global cuisine.

When Blackstone publishes an audiobook you can expect a quality production, and Have You Eaten Yet is no exception. Voice actor Brian Nishii does a superb job of reading the book and he effectively conveys the emotions of the people that Kwan interviews.

My only advice: Don’t read (or listen to) this book when you are hungry.

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