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Crowded, chaotic perfection: an ode to Persia Foods, the greatest (and most affordable) grocer in the city.
I wasn’t a kid who kicked and screamed in the grocery store, or who needed my mother to open up a box of Oreos to sate me. Instead, we had a routine: upon entering the cool, shiny-tiled supermarket, I’d trot off to the greeting card aisle and read horrifically corny stationery to my heart’s content while my mother worried about silly adult things like feeding a family of four. As she was puzzling over the price of cauliflower, I was 11 aisles away, laughing at doodles of droopy-boobed women making snarky remarks about aging.
All this to say: I did not pay attention to the cost of produce until it became absolutely necessary. And when that time came, the sticker shock was real. (Maybe those greeting card drawings were on to something—growing up kind of sucks.) Thank god I spent my university days living in a basement just a block away from a Persia Foods. That’s where I learned how to grocery shop.
My Persia Foods is not shiny-tiled, and sometimes they don’t even have cauliflower. If you go at the wrong time (read: literally any convenient time) you’ll find that the checkout line reaches down an entire aisle or even wraps all the way around the back of the store. They’ve always just received a shipment of something or other that’s blocking a shelf—or six. And it’s constantly packed with college students swinging bulky backpacks and little old men who take so long to choose a tomato you’re afraid they’ll both expire.
But Persia Foods is the only place in the city I know of where you can reliably get an avocado for less than $2. I can buy a week’s worth of groceries for less than $20. Lentils and chickpeas and gnocchi and tomato paste all cost a fraction of the price you’ll find in other stores. The rosewater and orange blossom water (under $3 each) make my low-commitment cocktails taste damn fancy.
At my Persia Foods, there are two gals who seem to be always working the checkout: one who greets me with a smile and another who looks like she wouldn’t care if I dropped dead. I find them both equally charming. There are no conveyor belts or finicky plastic dividers, just a linoleum counter to plop your items on. Then it’s a race to pile them into your tote as the good-cop or bad-cop checkout lady scans like the wind.
Fluorescent-lighted big box grocers and glamorous specialty stores do have their place. It’s convenient to buy bananas and tampons at the same time, and $17 salsa makes for a thoughtful housewarming gift. But in this increasingly unaffordable city, the no-nonsense nature of Persia Foods has my heart. I love navigating through the narrow aisles, searching for non-bruised apples and gleefully looking at my receipt. Sure, maybe there’s no greeting card section, but I’ve kind of grown out of boob-based humour, anyway.
*Author’s note: not one (1) single day after this story was published in our print magazine, the Persia Foods by my home was temporarily shut down by Vancouver Coastal Health. Seeing the crowd of faces standing around the shuttered doors—sadly reading the bright yellow notice—was probably the closest thing I’ve felt to community in the neighbourhood. Whatever the reason for the shutdown, it’s back open now. Did this affect my love for the grocer at all? Absolutely not. Was it a very funny coincidence that my favourite grocery store was shut down due to health code violations? Absolutely.