I like to think
that I'm well versed in the stories of my 'hood.
Strathcona is Vancouver's oldest
neighbourhood and it has more than a few tales to tell. Jimi
Hendrix's grandmother, Nora Hendrix, moved into the 800-block of
East Georgia Street the early 1900's. I've read about Hogan's
Alley, a vibrant black community that existed in a lane between
Prior and Union Streets with its colourful nightclubs, gin joints
and gambling shacks. And of course Chinatown's
past is still
visible today. But as I recently discovered, there are still
some secrets to be had.
Street between East Keefer and East Georgia Streets, lies
Tosi & Co. (624 Main Street), a store that
I've always been curious about. The windows are dusty, cardboard
boxes, containers of olive oil and pasta make up the haphazard
window display and there is a sign on the door asking you to ring
the buzzer to be let in. And while I've been curious, I was never
brave enough to work up the courage to ring that buzzer. What a
fool I was! I shouldn't have been afraid because Tosi & Co. is
the real deal… an Italian grocer and food importer that has been
around since 1906. The owner Angelo explained to me that the reason
behind the buzzer is to protect his business from the shady
characters that come with the Downtown Eastside territory.
Once inside I not
only found great stashes of all kinds of imported pasta, tomatoes,
cookies and juices, but something more exciting; this wasn't just
another Italian market, it was a holdover from another era. There
were incredible looking hanging light fixtures, large wooden bins
holding dusty glass jars, an ancient cash register, and an entire
room filled with old, old stuff. The shelving towered with all
kinds of imported delicacies and food stuffs. The store hasn't
changed in over 100 years and is truly a sight to behold.
After gawking at the wares, I got down to business and started
piling pasta, a couple tins of tomatoes and a box of delicate
Italian cookies onto the counter. It was then I spotted a dozen
local free-run eggs for $3.89. Angelo told me about how these eggs
had gorgeous bright orange yolks and gave a bit of info about the
farm where they came from. I was sold. I also asked for a small
wedge of organic parmesan and was amazed that Angelo used four
different tools to cut through the weighty wheel of hard cheese. He
was definitely a master at work and it was beautiful to
The prices at
Tosi & Co. are reasonable, the quality is high and Angelo is
always willing to offer tips and advice about any of the products
he sells. I can't wait to go back and try the imported unfiltered
extra-virgin olive oil from Sagra and check out the imported
prosciutto and bins of olives. But most of all, I want to once
again experience this unique Vancouver landmark and piece of
neighbourhood history. Vancouver is developing like crazy and it's
nice visit somewhere where time has stood still.
Tosi & Co.
624 Main St.
Jeannette Ordas is a Vancouver-based Web Designer and Food
Blogger who is probably right now thinking about what she'll
make for dinner.
Posted: Mon, Dec 31 2007