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You mostly find North Indian groceries in Vancouver stores, but Jeya Brothers (757 E. Broadway, 604-707-0157) offers a welcome alternative: it specializes in food products from the more fiery cuisine in the southern part of the country. The shop is small, and its modest signage and barred windows are less than inviting. But the selection is intriguing: produce like Moringa tree pods and snake gourds, and frozen fish from the Indian Ocean, plus freshly made sweet biscuits and Sri Lankan meals like string hoppers (thin-noodle dish served with curry). Rent a Tamil or Sinhalese video to watch with dinner. Fruiticana (6387 Fraser St., 604-321-993. Fruiticana.com), a local business with a dozen locations around the Lower Mainland, sells fresh Indian eggplants, guavas, curry leaves, and paneer at great prices. (There are also products from Pakistan, Thailand, and Dubai.) Pick up tasty Indian-style snacks made from lentils and chickpeas, and if you’re knuckling down to make a recipe from one of Vikram Vij’s cookbooks, this is your one-stop shop for spices, produce, and flours.
North Road Centre in Burnaby is home to Hannam Supermarket (4501 North Rd., 604-420-8856. Hannamsm.com), which sells hard-to-find ingredients like fernbrake (a key ingredient for bibimbap) and readymade traditional dishes such as acorn jelly and japchae. Hit it on the right day and you might be lucky enough to find street-food vendor Five Loaves Two Fish selling hot rice pancakes (savoury, vegetarian, or sweet) for a mere dollar.
Before entering Los Guerreros (102-3317 Kingsway Ave., 604-451-7850), a Latin specialty store, prepare yourself. The oranges and greens that come blasting from the shelves of two-litre Mexican soda pops and other sweets are truly fluorescent. Piñatas hang densely from the ceiling; the small space stocks a limited selection of fresh produce, including both green and black plantains, as well as an extensive variety of well-priced chilies and spices, plus fresh cheeses and chorizo.
Buried unexpectedly at the heart of Izumi-Ya supermarket (160-7971 Alderbridge Way, Richmond, 604-303-1171. Izumi-ya.ca) is La Chocolaterie, a mini boutique stocking yuzu chocolates with chunks of the citrus rind mixed in, and others spiced with Japanese sancho pepper or wasabi. Also on site is Misono, a Korean-style meat shop specializing in thinly sliced meats for dishes like suikiyaki and shabu-shabu. Plants like shiso and wasabi are also seasonally available. For 20 years, Konbiniya (1238 Robson St., 604-682-3634. Konbiniya.com) has sourced confectionary, noodles, rice (10 different varieties), dried goods, and, more recently, locally made natto (fermented soybeans). Konbiniya (Japanese for “convenience store”) is also home to the sweet and savoury offerings of Bon Crepe (try the Teriyaki Chicken Mayo).
Kam Wai (249 E. Pender St., 604-568-6692) is known for its extensive selection of fresh and frozen dim sum. Highlights include MSG-free pork and vegetable steamed buns; fresh egg and rice noodles; and goji berry, coconut, and mango puddings. Like most small groceries in Chinatown, Wong Xin Market (747 Gore Ave., 604-688-8235) is always cold and sparsely merchandised. But its dedicated owner is both friendly and knowledgeable. The shop, ranging across Southeast Asian provisions and produce, reliably features fresh turmeric, galangal, pandan, hot basil, lime leaves, and cherimoyas-the most delicious fruit known to man, according to Mark Twain. The First Avenue Marketplace (E. First and Renfrew) is home to a T&T Supermarket and specialty stores for both vegetarians and carnivores. For the former, Whole Vegetarian Food (108-2800 E. First Ave., 604-568-8180) offers the best prices for produce and sells specialty vegetarian and organic products. For exotic proteins like alligator, ostrich, and frog legs, visit First Avenue Meat Shop (215-2800 E. First Ave., 604-215-8638). And if it’s chicken you’re after, try Yao Sun Loong Kong Chicken (220-2800 E. First Ave., 604-215-9932), which also stocks squab and partridge.
Joyce-Collingwood Station on the SkyTrain line is the hub for Filipino groceries: hard-to-find tropical fruits like sapodillas (similar to a kiwi fruit, but with a flavour more like a date’s) and lansones (looks like a longan, tastes like a Jolly Rancher). At Kay Mart (5169 Joyce St., 604-454-9097), you’ll find fresh pitchi-pitchi (a coconut and cassava dessert) and bottles of honey-calamansi lime concentrate. A few doors down is the Sari-Sari Convenience Store (5191 Joyce St., 604-436-0146), which stocks frozen fish, empanadas, and steamed buns, as well as baked goods from local Filipino bakeries Goldilocks and NewTown.