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Vancouver Chinatown grocers try English

Jeremy Nuttall

By Jeremy Nuttall, 24 hours Vancouver

Chinatown grocers are looking to unlock the mysteries of many types of vegetables, such as bok choy. (FILE PHOTO)

Chinatown grocers are looking to unlock the mysteries of many types of vegetables, such as bok choy. (FILE PHOTO)

Ken Lau grabs a kohlrabi from the pile in front of his Vancouver store Chinatown Supermarket on Keefer Street and explains how the vegetable — which resembles the Sputnik satellite — is cooked.

“We just peel off the skin, and then we slice it and do a stir fry,” said Lau. “It’s very popular in the stir fry with shredded pork or shredded chicken in the summertime.”

But, Lau said, many non-Asians aren't privy to the delightful tastes of Asian legumes because they simply don’t know what they are. One organization in Chinatown is trying to change all that.

The Hua Foundation — an organization focused on sustainability issues and culture of Chinese Canadians — recently kicked off the Choi Project.

The idea is to let people who aren’t Asian know what some of the more obscure produce seen in Chinatown is and inform people they are actually grown locally.

Charts have been made up for distribution that help explain what some of the vegetables are and when they are in season.

Lau is the first merchant to sign on to the project, which he hopes will also benefit the bottom line of Chinatown’s shop owners.

“In Chinatown, they have so many new buildings coming, many non-Asian people moving in,” Lau said. “We try to encourage the people when they come in to see that these are local vegetables.”

But it’s not just about labelling greens in English, said Claudia Li of the Hua Foundation.

Li said another concern was that vegetables Chinese residents love and grown without the use of pesticides are difficult to find.

“If you cared about what went into your body and you want to eat something that makes you feel at home, how do you do that?” Li said.

She said she was used to choosing from organic vegetables commonplace in the West, but when it came to buying Asian vegetables for traditional foods if she was cooking for her parents, she was confused about where it came from and if it was organic.

Li is also hoping a cultural gap is bridged in the city and is now working on cooking workshops to show people how to cook the vegetables with traditional recipes.

“Right now we’re looking for kitchen space,” Li said. “Mostly we’ll also be promoting it through our online channel so we’ll be taking video footage for ‘how-tos’ so people who can’t come to the workshops can still access that kind of information online.”


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