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GUEST BLOGGER: Vancouver's Chinatown

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Posted by : Anonymous, Fri, Aug 31 2007

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When I moved to Vancouver, I lived near Commercial Drive where Italian coffee bars and markets flourished. I knew where to get the best cheese, bread and cured meats and which markets to cherry pick for the best price on fresh fruits and vegetables. But when I moved less than one block away from North America's second-largest Chinatown, I felt a little overwhelmed by all the markets with their foreign sights and smells. From the stinky durian fruit hanging in their mesh bags to the fish markets with their fresh catches flopping out from their plastic bins. And with all the herbal shops with bins of dried seafood and splayed flying lizards shoved onto sticks, I felt there was much to discover.

On the downtown edge of Chinatown sits the massive T&T Supermarket filled with all kinds of Asian goods in a very modern setting. While it's great place to browse and shop for everything from sushi to chicken feet to imported Japanese shampoo, I like the more traditional family-run markets with their history and all the bargains to be had.

While there are dozens and dozens of produce markets in Chinatown, there is only one that I know by name. Hands down, my favourite store where I do the bulk of my shopping is Sunrise Market (300 Powell Street). This isn't your typical sterile supermarket with rows of shiny apples and peppers stacked just so. Nope, not here! Sunrise Market is hectic, crowded, noisy, cluttered, messy, and I love every second of shopping there.

The outside of the store is jam packed with all kinds of fruits and vegetables at bargin-bin prices. Where else can you purchase six BC-grown english cucumbers for $1? What's unusual about Sunrise is that they mark what produce is locally grown, something I haven't seen in other Chinatown markets. They also carry a lot of organic products at prices you just can't find anywhere else in the city. The quality, variety and price of their produce is incredible and they even have a separate register for restaurants, so you know that if Vancouver's chefs shop here, it's got to be good.

I head to Sunrise every few days and I always leave with my bags heavy. My last grocery haul at Sunrise included organic millet, organic free-run eggs, local nugget potatoes, beets, green beans, radishes, parsley, baby bok choy, black plums, organic yogurt, corn on the cob, along with a few canned goods and other pantry items for under $35. Last month, I posted a photo and list of everything I had bought at Sunrise that day. The total? $15. Amazing.

If all the jostle of Chinatown is wearing you thin, definitely stop by the restorative Kam Gok Yuen (142 East Pender), a colourful little joint for noodles, chili wontons and the best BBQ duck I've had in a long time.

A few doors down is the always bustling New Town Bakery and Restaurant (148 East Pender) for some pina-coco buns and apple tarts. New Town is also famous for their steamed buns (veggie or BBQ pork) and lures in passers-by with their sign, calling them "Chinese hamburgers." With its formicia tables, plastic chairs, and old men regulars, it's a great place for a bit of old school diner love.

I haven't had the courage to try a durian yet, I still don't know what powers those dried lizards hold, and one of these days I'm going to sign up for a "Chinatown Market Experience" culinary tour offered by Edible British Columbia so I can get the full Chinatown experience. But right now, I'm more than happy to have found such a great new shopping world just steps from my home.

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: Fri, Aug 31 2007 by Anonymous
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