blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

At the Asian supermarket

In 1993, a rather homesick Taiwanese lady in Vancouver called Cindy Lee started a business in that city, opening a grocery store called T&T. There are 22 T&T supermarkets in Canada now, most of them in Vancouver and Toronto. Today, with some other people from the Canada-China Friendship Society, I joined a guided tour of the much talked about the new Ottawa T&T on Hunt Club Road. We had some very enthusiastic young people as guides, employees of the store, who allowed us to sample quite a few items of edible produce, baozi stuffed with tasty roast pork, for example, xiao mai, and tender slices of Nanjing salty duck, but fortunately we weren't encouraged to nibble at the barbecued cuttlefish or the chickens' feet.

Jimmy, the manager, met us at the front door and showed us a map of China, explaining that the Chinese visualise their country as being north and south or between the great rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze. North is the wheat country (noodles and baked baozi) and in the south it's rice (and steamed dumplings). Then we went straight to the "Kitchen" or dim sum corner for some sampling. Dim sum are southern snacks, typically eaten "with chicken tea" for breakfast by groups of old people after they've done their morning exercises. We witnessed these physical exertions in Hangzhou!

The groceries at the T&T supermarket are impressive in their variety. At the barbecue counter is a display of roast chicken and whole roast ducks, hanging from hooks in their necks, the heads still on, of course and coloured red by virtue of the sugar used in their coating. A pig's carcass hung there too, with the roast pig's head on a tray underneath, and the cuttlefish with its dangling tentacles. If you don't fancy slicing up these meats yourself you can choose from 23 ready meals neatly packaged ("BBQ Meal Combo"), or from a selection of ready-to-fry meals with labels to tell you what they are: "spicy pork stomach" or "salty mustard greens" (very popular).

To the bakery corner, next, where we met bakery manager Raymond who let us try a piece of pork filled bun and then announced, "I have some dessert for you ladies!" handing out pieces of egg custard tart with  miniature cups of a mauve coloured drink called "taro tapioca"––the taro had a sweet flavour, rather like sweet potato, but I'm afraid the tapioca reminds me of frog spawn. They had a purple-frosted taro cake there too and some cakes for children's birthday parties that looked like cats' or pandas' faces.

In the main part of the supermarket we were told that the sauce aisle is the "most busier aisle;" it had a large variety of soy sauces and marinating sauces, among which was an enormous jar of pat chum "for pork's feet"––good for new mothers, apparently. We paused at the noodle section too. I hadn't realised that some noodles are made from calcium rich, low calorie tofu. When buying the ready-shaped dumpling dough, don't forget that "round is for dumpling, square is for wonton."

I think that the fishmonger, wearing a yellow apron, was the most enthusiastic of the T&T department managers; he told us he had the biggest seafood sales in Ottawa. Lolan commented that fish is a must for the Chinese New Year because the character for fish, yú, (鱼) also means "abundance." Many live creatures were swimming, wriggling or otherwise still alive in the fish tanks. At the opening of the store, they had 10,000 lobsters available. Yesterday a few of us were struck by a large, live clam that according to one of our group "looked vaguely obscene": the geoduck. "Vaguely" may be an understatement.

Asian shoppers prefer their meat and fish as fresh as possible, and I suppose that is why the meat still looks like what it really is in their displays (such as the large tongue of beef and the tripe). We heard the word "nutritious" used a great deal. The free range, black chickens, for instance, were more nutritious than the conventional sort: the butcher waxed quite lyrical when describing them. He also told us about the communal meal that consists of dropping thin uncooked slices of beef into a consommé soup for a short moment before picking them out again to eat (i.e. the Chinese fondue or "hot pot" custom). "Every people like this one!" he exclaimed.

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