Book Review: Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant

Book Cover with title
ISBN: 9780316507653
Published: October 17, 2023
Page Count: 304
Nineteen eighties Detroit was a volatile place to live, but above the fray stood a safe haven: Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, where anyone—from the city’s first Black mayor to the local drag queens, from a big-time Hollywood star to elderly Jewish couples—could sit down for a warm, home-cooked meal. Here was where, beneath a bright-red awning and surrounded by his multigenerational family, filmmaker and activist Curtis Chin came of age; where he learned to embrace his…

A menu is presented to us, in Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant, written by Curtis Chin. Unlike a typical menu, where we would pick an choose exactly what we want to ingest, this menu of the author’s life story really depicted how much of his life was not of his choosing. In this memoir we get to experience the life of a gay, middle-child, American born Chinese boy growing up in Detroit in the 80s and 90s. Chin really captured how being different, whether in talking about being Asian, studious, or gay, were not optional choices for him. Through his coming of age, he discovered these things that made him different really made him who he was innately.

What really made this read enjoyable was Chin’s sense of humor that is sprinkled throughout his memoir. Using humor, Chin is able to touch on the serious topics of racism, and homophobia, without bringing readers down. I also enjoyed reading about his family dynamics. Growing up with a multigenerational family and the connectedness they had filtered through their family business, Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, is common among immigrant families and was pictured nicely here. I think the greatest impact this book had for me was that of his experience of coming out gay. Not having experienced this myself, I was able to get a sense of his child-self’s confusion, shame, fears and curiosities. I really felt for him and any child having to go through this without having anyone to talk to about what they are experiencing.

As far as the food content in this read, I could have used more detailed descriptions of the food. I was nice to see how Chin’s mom used food as a form of communication, as many of us mom’s probably do. I’m choosing to pair this story with one of my favorite Chinese dishes, the scallion pancake. This can be eaten for breakfast or served as an appetizer, too. I find that the coiled dough is like our life path that we follow and when the dough get’s rolled out, the path’s edges blend together, so one could say, “where you’ve been touches the road to where you are going.” I know, a little poetic, but there you have it, you’ll never look at another scallion pancake the same.

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