Yes, I know: in major to medium sized cities, you can drop by big, non-ethnic supermarket chains and load up on fresh ginger, pita bread or curry paste. Heck, even a deal on bitter melon is even possible these days.
No Need for Food Coupons
I have not used any food coupons over the past 3 decades. Instead, I’ve relied on low-cost food discoveries in ethnic grocery stores, farmers’ markets and only 1-2 national mainstream supermarkets.
I happily patronized 1-3 different ethnic grocery stores and supermarket stores when I have lived in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. It takes time to find them. But cycling does encourage me to explore, in search of food deals at a few select places that are kind to the food budget yet interesting places just to browse briefly.
Japanese Supermarket for Fresh, Cheaper Sushi
In Vancouver, we occasionally cycled over to the Japanese local supermarket chain, Fujiya near the Adanac bike route. If you want competitively priced, freshly made but packaged sushi and sashimi combinations, this is the place. Along with a tray or two of sushi, is their bowl of miso soup for a simple, cheap lunch at their little eating area inside, at the front of the store. Fujiya has some outlets in Metro Vancouver. Not surprisingly, the multi-generational local Japanese-Canadians go there and everyone else.
At minimum, I usually end up buying a big pack of green tea or buckwheat noodles. But there is a diverse selection of Japanese teas, miso pastes and dried seaweeds. I don’t buy much from this suite of Japanese staples, but it still is interesting just to look at the differences in Japanese teas versus the Chinese teas.
More Rice Diversity at Chinese One-Stop Supermarket
Maybe I’m not remembering correctly, but Fujiya doesn’t offer the same diversity of rice in sacks compared to some Chinese grocery stores. I do shop at the Chinese mega-chain (at least for North American Chinese supermarkets) at T & T’s — more for convenience instead of continuously great deals. Some of their prices are higher than independent Chinese grocery stores. Annoyingly, sometimes large bunches of Chinese greens are bundled in plastic and sold by weight. Not practical when buying for only 1-2 people.
But still, it’s just easier to manoeuvre around in wider shopping aisles. The shelves are filled with a mind-boggling variety of foods that either I’ve never tried (and some I never will, since it’s processed and packaged junk food a la Asian-style) or my decision-making is challenged on which brand to try. It used to be rice. But since I don’t eat much rice anymore, it’s Chinese noodles now –certain types of noodles. T & T has spread its supermarket empire across Canada. There are some differences between Vancouver stores and the single Calgary store. Vancouver locations offer a lot more fresh seafood and wider range of locally made fresh Chinese noodles. I haven’t visited Calgary store often enough to see if they’ve gone as far as to introduce bison or venison to their customers. But it’s only a matter of time when they do.
Piles of Middle Eastern Couscous Sacks
For Middle Eastern groceries, we have the easy convenience near a bike route to access Byblos, a Middle Eastern wholesale bakery outlet in Calgary which also supplies Western Canada. It’s typical to see customers sail out of the store with over 10-20 packs of pita bread for their families or more likely, their own restaurants.
After packing away pita bread, some phyllo pastries with pistachios, hazelnuts and thankfully, less syrupy than Greek versions and freshly made hummus, we settle down for a sumach spiced flatbread, a pastry and drink before climbing back on the bikes.
Just a block away is Basha Foods International, a large Middle Eastern supermarket that has instead, sacks of rice varieties with Middle East or Indian brands as well as whole aisles devoted to diverse selection and large volumes of beans, millet, couscous and barley.
Colonial Tea Branding in South Asian Teas, Not East Asian Brands
Packaged tea has Middle Eastern script with branding that reflects British colonial past — totally different from Chinese tea branding which retains more often, Chinese imagery and logos with no reference to British connections. But then except for Hong Kong and Macau, China was never colonized. Same for Japanese teas and their branding.
Someone mentioned to me that it would be cheaper and more satisfying that I made my own hummus. Sure, but there are limits how far I will go the homemade route. I shop at these favourite food stores in lieu of visiting many different mainstream supermarkets for good prices and fun while browsing different foodstuffs.
Oh yes, I forgot: they are fun cycling destinations while I also get a great work out to haul the goodies homeward.