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Not Just Another Italian Market, Vancouver


Posted by : Anonymous, Mon, Dec 31 2007

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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.

On Main 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 watch.

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.

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Tosi & Co.
624 Main St.
Vancouver, BC
(604) 681-5740

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 by Anonymous

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