Rooted in Chinatown

By Maina Chen; Professional Writing, ‘18

I identify with a realm of culture and exquisite tastes. I breathe in the smells of spices and sauces frequently dabbled onto plates of glowing meats and glisteningly fresh vegetables. When it comes to food, rarely would you ever meet me in person and the topic not come up. I find eating to be one of the greatest joys you can experience in life, and finding new tastes is something to get excited for.

One of the things I looked forward to the most when coming to Montreal was the food scene. Of course getting an internship and preparing myself for a life in the game industry is something that I’m still adamant about (I’m kind of Frankensteining my way into the game major as a game writer), but when I heard in orientation that we were going to get a glimpse of Downtown Montreal’s Chinatown, I was ecstatic.

I grew up in Avenue U, in Sheepshead bay, Brooklyn, New York. The exact location was something I had memorized to this day, because of how important the area was to me. It was where my friends and I would walk around after classes when I was still in high school, and after we graduated, it became our frequent dining location where we would catch up on life while enjoying some of the best Asian tastes nearby.

It blew my mind when I did a bit of researching on the location, (to make absolutely sure I didn’t offend anyone back home by getting it wrong), and found out that Ave U is Brooklyn’s second Chinatown. Here I was veiled in my naiveté that Asian supermarkets would always be at arm’s length whenever I needed it, and it was luck that allowed all these Asian businesses to band together in one location. Purely, unabashedly, naive.

Hence why back in Burlington, my disappointment with the lack of Asian ingredients like watercress, Chinese celery, bok choy, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and black bean paste, made my experience in the dining hall much grimmer by the time I reached the first semester of my Sophomore year. It was only after I came to cook for myself and my roommates, did the freedom of hand-picking and choosing my options really set my heart and my stomach soaring.

Another reason other than taste that sorely dictated my shopping methods and my scrutinizing, was the financial aspect of living on your own. While the independence was pleasant, shopping on a budget can be the hammer to your conscience, bringing you back to reality. Some stores made for great deal makers particularly if Provigo or IGA didn’t have cheaper sales.

There were specifically two supermarkets located in Montreal’s Chinatown I ended up frequenting: Kein Vinh Trading Inc. in 1062 Boul St-Laurent; and G&D supermarché situated a street down in 1006 Boul St-Laurent. Despite the former being run by a Vietnamese owner, the workers speak fluent Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and bit of English. You can expect varying levels of fluency, usually in the case of younger cashiers being more flexible with their languages. It was highly impressive nonetheless and made me really appreciate the effort the workers took to learning them all.chinatown-2

Kein Vinh Trading Inc., is the smaller supermarket of the two, with a small stand on the outside carrying dried goods i.e., ginger, and a few seasonal and out of season fruits. Once you hop over the small steps leading into the store, you’ll find yourself faced with rushing grannies and busy aunts. These small women are tenacious in how quickly they can spot the best ingredient out of the bunch and snatch it up before you even get to it. Of course I’m exaggerating, but there’s no denying that these grannies got skills.chinatown-3

The great thing about these types of markets lie in how organized everything is. The labels are clearly marked with the pricing and name, while also being bagged for quick grabs. Come get your burdock roots, chinatown-4snap peas, zucchinis, heads of lettuce, onions, bean sprouts and more in this cheaply priced venue.

Personally the better supermarket of the two, G&D is an underground-based store tucked away underneath the restaurant, Nouilles de Lan Zhou. I haven’t had the chance to test out their cuisine, but the smell of sesame oil and noodles cooking in broth, spill out of the kitchens like a dream. Once you push past the mouth-watering smells you reach the sign pointing you to the right direction. Don’t be alarmed by the number of ingredients piled high above each other, and the number of people in the store, because the trip is well worth it. Here you get your pick of a variety of Asian veggies, herbs both dried and raw, and ripe fruits.

chinatown-5chinatown-6

In these pictures , the lanterns and decorations were courtesy of the Mid-Autumn festival that was happening at the time.

 

Now when I happened upon this giant gem of a store with one of my roommates (who is also Asian and loves Chinatowns), we were both struck with awe and admiration for a solid minute. At first we were a bit taken aback with how all of the signs were in French and Chinese, but it didn’t take long until we remembered we were in Montreal. We became so animated by what we saw, we literally circled the smaller aisles for a while before we somehow moved past one of the bigger aisles facing the back and I exclaimed, “Wow! There’s more!” Naturally, I scurried over so fast that she ended up having to calm me down as I excitedly whispered back, “They have all the sauces!”chinatown-7

It was beautiful, the way each bottle lined up on the shelves and contained tastes that completed and augmented the flavor of each meat, vegetable, or rice dish.

Don’t be intimidated by the grandeur I’m painting the stores to have—they’re open to everyone. It isn’t strange to see native French speakers conversing with the checkout workers, and asking where a specific item is.

chinatown-8For the people who are specifically searching for ramen options, I’ve got you covered with its location in aisle 8. There you’ll find your craving satisfied with plenty of options.

Pro-tip: if you’re a rice lover like me and you can’t go a couple days without having it as your staple side dish, buy it chinatown-10in bulk. Never settle for instant rice if you a rice cooker at your disposal and want to have better tasting options. They’re placed in the back of the store and layered on top of each other like sacks, but you’ll be set for a month or two (depending on who else also eats it) if you grab one of those.

Asian flavors are nearby at about a 12-minute walk. There will always be many things to experiment with and I highly suggest dabbling in this cultural corner when you have the chance. Happy shopping and I hope you become as infatuated with Chinatown as I do.