One of the reasons to visit Toronto almost two months was food – food in restaurants, food in cafe eateries, food at takeout vans, and also food in Chinese supermarkets. This is when I discovered Oriental Food Mart, with a few branches around the GTA, including one in Markham, where lives Toronto’s most important concentration of ethnic Chinese and another in Missisauga’s Chinese town.
One of the advantages of any other Canadian city, including Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary is the presence of a T&T Supermarket, commonly known as 大統華 (Tai Tung Hua), a joint venture between one of Taiwan’s ten biggest conglomerates (they also sell dairy products, and even own hotels!) and Californian supermarket chain Tawa. T&T is one of the best known names in the Canadian Asian grocery business and definitely rivals mainstream big names in terms of quality (Kim Phat and Hawaï in Greater Montreal are trying hard to match this level of quality but still aren”t there).
T&T also has the reputation of being well-packaged and fresh, but also charging a premium for the augmented quality (qualitatively verified by yours truly). This is where Oriental Food Mart (華盛 – Hua Sheng, which translates to something like Chinese blooming) comes in, with a reputation for more competitive prices with just a slightly less appealing presentation, although not remarkably less by so much.
I went on Sunday after lunch, presumably the most busy time of the week, as the suburbanites stock up for the rest of the week. My Torontonian hosts had just taken me to a dim sum place in the same new-looking mall. I did my groceries there, even if the prices were comparable – more frequently than not, it was more expensive – than in Montreal.
Modern Chinese supermarkets (I’ve seen these in Hong Kong) tend to have these vegetable counters, imitating the look and feel of a traditional outdoor fresh produce market. They are an easy way of telling customers that the veggies as fresh from the field (or the box they came in) as possible,
Quite naturally, you find a counter for prepared foods, a bakery and a counter of what I call Chinese cold cuts, but which is better named as siu lap or siu mei (barbecued meat). Just like anything coming from a supermarket which can be bought in a specialized shop, one may be right to be suspicious and purchase it elsewhere (which I did). Because of greater turnover and the hopeful corollary of a fresher roast, siu mei is one of those things that’s worth buying on a last day in Toronto.
In the bargains, I got a stick-free wok (“made in Korea”) for 30$, a metal plate for a few dollars, and a six-pack of Vita juice for only $2.99!! [The market price in Mtl is invariably $3.99, sometimes $6.50 for two six-packs.]
Oriental Food Mart is where my hosts shop most of the time. If you are planning a food trip to Toronto and have already seen and been to T&T, then the Oriental Food Mart is definitely worth going to as well. I filled any space left in my single sports bag and several cloth bags.
1661 Denison Street, Markham, ON. (Corner of Kennedy, 1km north of Pacific Mall)