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The New Grocerʼs Aisle


Inside T&T Supermarket

The downtown location of T&T Supermarket lies on the border of Chinatown, and at first glance it looks like any supermarket you would find in Vancouver. But with a closer examination, the differences become clear. When you step through the doors and look left, enormous fish tanks stretch high towards the ceiling. Handwritten signs on the tanks read,“Live Bull Head,” “Trout” and “Lemon Sole” as fish swim listlessly back and forth. Below the tanks, mounds of mussels and clams lay dormant in trickling pools of water.Above the tanks, men and women in aprons set their gaze eagerly toward their customers below.

Seafood at its freshest.

Moving into the butcher section, familiar items pepper unfamiliar sights. Chicken feet, pork ears, pork heart and pork tongue might be considered odd in Safeway, but in T&T they are typical stock items that lay wrapped and refrigerated awaiting the right patron. The canned and dried goods department carries the Asian equivalents of western provisions, but these packages look very different. Here, bags of noodles sport colourful graphics and foreign words screaming for your attention; around the corner an extensive selection of marinades suitable for Asian cooking sit bottled and ready to go.

Asian salad sections.

The produce department has all the basics that any good supermarket would carry, with the added bonus of bitter melon, lotus root, jicama and hachiya persimmons. As the Asian communities in greater Vancouver have increased in numbers, so have the Asian restaurants and supermarkets. As non-Asian Vancouverites started to expand their taste palate to include various Asian cooking styles, people naturally wanted to makeAsian food at home. This resulted in more people seeking out particular ingredients for their home cooking—many of which can only be found in certain stores, like T&T.

Cooking Asian Cuisine At Home

Jacob Edenloff, a long-time Asian food enthusiast, can attest to this desire to recreate restaurant favourites at home. Once inside a store like T&T, Edenloff was exposed to many new foods, and in turn, inspired. “I love how they are completely different from our own supermarkets, but they’re perfectly acceptable for your standard shopping,” he says. “They have everything you would normally want with the added bonus of the unfamiliar items that make it exciting.”

Some people discover Asian cooking at the source. Chris Rae, a communications professional in Vancouver, fell in love with Korean food while living in Busan, Korea, for two-and-a-half years.After returning to British Columbia from Korea, Rae missed many things he had become accustomed to while abroad. “I definitely got addicted to a lot of foods while living over there and needed to get my fix when I came back. That’s how I got into my weekly H Mart routine.” H Mart is a Korean supermarket chain with locations across the United States and Canada, one of which is at the corner of Robson and Seymour Street in downtown Vancouver.

Learning To Cook With Spicy Steve

Steve Sorko, also known as Spicy Steve, is a television show host who has been called “the guru of Southeast Asian cuisine.” He has been exposing people in the greater Vancouver area to all that Southeast Asian cuisine has to offer since 1993. In addition to his work in television, Sorko teaches cooking classes to people who want to make the dishes they enjoy in restaurants at home. “Szechuan and other forms of Chinese cooking are more popular and a lot of people are trying kitchen pastes, or trying to get the authentic ingredients to make food spicier because spicy food is so popular today,” says Sorko. On his website,, he offers up cooking tips, recipes and how to make your Asian-style home cooking as authentic as possible.

Canned goods precisely stacked.

For those of us adventurous enough or budget-conscious enough to attempt Asian dishes at home, supermarkets like T&T and H Mart are the prime destinations for ingredients and inspiration. These Asian markets, now real competition for Safeway and Save-On-Foods, will continue to thrive as they meet the needs of a city embracing the diverse, delicate and delicious tastes of Asia.

2009 Pacific Rim Cover. "Cosmetic Acupuncture" Cover story. Image of woman's face.

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