In the past, Chinese grocery stores that I've visited have been disorganized, dirty and difficult to navigate since all the signs are in Chinese and the employees don't speak English. Trying to identify exotic vegetables or seafood by sight alone
can be quite challenging.
One day, my husband Rich was in one of these supermarkets waiting to get some fresh fish. The woman ahead of him, accompanied by
her young son, was ordering a live eel. Now if you've never seen live eels in a tank, it is quite a sight.
They are large suckers that look like giant snakes swimming in the water. The woman pointed to the eel she wanted and the fish vendor
extracted it from the tank and started to put it into a plastic bag. Suddenly the wiggling eel slipped out of the man's hands and
made a break for the nearest sewer drain. To the horror of Rich, the woman and small boy, the fish vendor pounced on the eel,
picked it up by the tail and whacked it several times against the floor until it stopped moving. He then calmly put the eel in the bag
and handed it to the speechless woman.
After these past experiences, we were thrilled when a gigantic new Chinese grocery store called T&T opened in at the corner of Warden and Steeles in Markham (near where I used to live and where my parents still live close to). It is unique in several ways. First of all, English is prevalent on all the signage and many of the employees speak English. This is essential for Rich and I, since Rich is Caucasian and although I am Chinese, I can only speak limited Cantonese. I also can only recognize a couple of written symbols (such as Horse, the literal translation of my last name, which is luckily and despite possible myths, is not a very useful word to be able to recognize in a Chinese grocery store).
Despite its size, T&T is also once of the cleanest grocery stores of any type (not just Chinese) that I've ever been in. Aisle after aisle, the floors are sparkling and litter-free. There are several aisles of North American products that you would find at the local Dominions or Loblaws, but obviously the Asian specialty products are the reason to visit. In this store, the selection is astounding. How many varieties of soya sauce or Chinese tea does one need to choose from? There are literally entire walls devoted to each of these products. In contrast, there were only two brands of cheese .. unlike the grocery store I visited recently in Paris, France where there was an entire wall full of cheeses. It is interesting to note the cultural differences reflected in the products. This is also reflected in the price of products. A large bag of dried porcini mushrooms costs about $1.99. A bag about 1/10 the size would cost over $6 at a North American store.
You can find some very exotic foods in this store, especially in the Seafood, Fruits and Vegetable sections. The photo above of the "Golden Cauliflowers" has not been touched up.. they were really that bright yellow hue!
In addition to the grocery shopping, T&T is also a haven for Chinese style "fast food" dining. There are food stalls selling Sushi, Dim Sum, Cooked Dishes, BBQ meats, pastries. Take note of the sales clerk behind the fast food counter in the bottom right photo. Obviously the community of Chinese restaurants and food chains are still heavily influenced by the affects of the SARS outbreak.
And finally, where else can you find TWELVE checkout lines all in action at the same time? T&T is also open at amazing hours
(something like 8am - midnight 7 days week including most statutory holidays). I just wish they'd open closer to where I now live,
downtown somewhere on the subway line!