Canadian Chinese cuisine is a popular style of 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 usually required altering cooking times, ingredients, and preparation methods so that the dishes were more agreeable to the Canadian palate. This cuisine developed alongside a similar version in the United States.
Canadian Chinese Restaurants
Even very small towns in most of Canada have at least one Canadian Chinese restaurant, and many 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 Cuisine Culture
Chinese restaurants generally use either one of the romanisation systems for Cantonese or an ad hoc romanisation rather than the Pinyin romanisation of Mandarin Chinese with which non-Chinese people are now most familiar. This has the effect, intended or not, of lending a sense of exotic nostalgia to the dining experience.
Staple Dishes in Canadian Chinese Cuisine
Chinese restaurants are usually small “mom & pop” businesses. Consequently the menus are highly variable, although dishes tend to include thickly battered and deep fried pieces of meat and fish, preferred by Canadian palates. The following dishes are generally universal:
- General Tso’s chicken — 左宗棠雞 – Deep fried boneless dark-meat chicken pieces, served with vegetables and whole dried red peppers in a sweet-spicy sauce.
- Cantonese style chow mein — 廣東炒麵 – Fried egg noodles, green peppers, pea pods, bok choy, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, shrimp, Chinese pork (char siu, 叉燒), chicken, and beef served in a thick sauce; typically marquee dish in a Canadian Chinese meal (not to be confused with American style chow mein).
- Almond Chicken Soo Guy (so gai) — Sliced breaded chicken breast with almonds and gravy. Usually known to anglophones as “almond chicken”.
- Chop suey — Very similar to Western style chop suey.
- Chow mein — Very similar to Western style chow mein, but with more beansprouts. “Hong Kong style chow mein” omits the beansprouts and is served on a bed of crunchy fried noodles.
- Won ton soup and wor won ton – pork and shrimp dumplings in a chicken broth, sometimes with sliced meats like barbecued pork.
Hot and sour soup
- Jar doo chicken wings — Lightly breaded seasoned deep-fried chicken wings.
- Lo mein — 撈麵 Fried egg noodles and vegetables, sometimes served in a thick sauce.
- Shanghai noodles — Fried thick noodles
- Moo goo guy pan — Sliced chicken with mushrooms and mixed vegetables.
- Shrimp with snow peas — In a clear sauce, often with other vegetables, often with battered and deep-fried shrimp.
- Singapore noodles — Rice noodles, beef, and vegetables served in a curry sauce.
- Dry ribs — Deep-fried seasoned pork ribs.
- Sweet and sour pork — Deep-fried pork chunks in sauce, often breaded into balls (but not always). May have a slice of orange.
- Sweet and sour chicken balls — Deep-fried breaded chicken or ground-chicken meatballs in sweet and sour sauce. In some Atlantic Canadian restaurants, the menus list this item only as “sweet and sour chicken,” thus removing any reference to either the shape or the breaded coating.
- Pineapple chicken — A variation of chicken balls, sometimes similar to General Tso’s chicken in term of appearance and texture. Coated with bright-red sweet tasting cherry sauce, and mixed with small chunks of pineapple.
- Ginger beef — 生姜牛肉 Tender beef cut in chunks, mixed with ginger and Chinese mixed vegetables.
- Ginger Fried Beef — 乾炒牛肉絲 Tender beef cut in strings, battered, deep dried, then re-fried in wok mixed with a sweet sauce, a variation of a popular Northern Chinese dish.
- Dai dop voy — 大什會 Fried sliced young chicken meat, fresh shrimps, barbecued pork with mixed Chinese vegetables.
- Diced pork ding — Cubed Chinese pork, almonds, and vegetables in a thick sauce (Any meat can serve as the base for a ding).
- Kung Pao Chicken — Kung Pao chicken is a spicy stir-fry dish made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chilli peppers. The classic dish originated in the Sichuan Province of central-western China and includes Sichuan peppercorns. Although the dish is found throughout China, there are regional variations that are typically less spicy than the Sichuan serving. Kung Pao chicken is a staple of westernised Chinese cuisine.
- Egg Foo Yung — An omelette dish found in Chinese Indonesian, British and Chinese American cuisine. The name comes from the Cantonese language. Egg foo young is derived from Fu Yung Egg Slices, a mainland Chinese recipe from Shanghai.
- Egg rolls
- Potstickers/Fried Pork Dumplings — Generally filled with diced pork and vegetables (mostly cabbage, green onion/scallion) in a doughy wrapper served pan-fried with a vinegar (can be white, red, black, rice wine vinegar…), sesame oil and ginger sauce. Often called “wor tips” in southern Alberta, especially at Chinese restaurants in Lethbridge.
- Lemon chicken — Chicken breast, battered and deep-fried, then sliced and served with lemon sauce.
- Fried Rice — A popular component of Asian cuisine, especially in Southeast Asia, where it is staple as Southeast Asian foods. It is made from steamed rice stir-fried in a wok, often with other ingredients, such as eggs, vegetables, and meat. It is sometimes served as the penultimate dish in Chinese banquets (just before dessert). As a home-cooked dish, fried rice typically is made with leftover ingredients from other dishes, leading to countless variations.
- Salt and pepper squid