Nothing is more fun than browsing in a huge Asian supermarket. In West Vancouver, we have the Osaka Market on the south side of the large Park Royal shopping centre. Osaka is part of the T & T chain, which originated in Burnaby and Richmond in 1993 and has now spread to 22 stores in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. It is the largest Asian supermarket chain in the country. T & T was set up initially to offer a modern and efficient shopping experience to allow Asian immigrants to find their favourite foods in Canada. Increasingly, the stores are attracting segments of the mainstream market, nowhere more so than in this particular Osaka store on Vancouver’s north shore. I have visited the T & T on Canary Street in downtown Toronto on occasion, but because I don’t speak any Asian languages, my experience was not the same. I also understand that the two Osaka stores were originally owned by Japanese interests so their style of operation is somewhat different. Whatever the difference, I like it.
Osaka has a range of departments which are outstanding. It has a huge bakery, produces its own fresh sushi, and a ready-made Chinese food counter offering dim sum, barbecue and other Chinese dishes. There is a fish counter with fresh fish, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, and clams in holding tanks. And a full range of western and oriental produce, plain and organic, which appears to change quickly. The aisles are stocked with an endless array of products I know nothing about. But all seem to be labelled as required by our laws, so you can check out the calorie counts, fat levels, cholesterol and sugar content. The flavoured milk tea I fancied had very high calorie counts and sugar levels, so I passed that up. But I found some seasoned seaweed (kimchi and wasabi flavours) which only had 15 calories per package; there are eight packages in the bag, all for under $2.00. I brought those home as a treat. We opened up a package and found inside several very thin, light slices of dried seaweed, highly spiced, which were quite tasty. It occurred to me that maybe Asians stay thin by having snacks which provide taste but no substance. Not a bad idea, that.
But it is the service at Osaka which delights. Lineups at the cash registers are non-existent. Back-up people seem to swoop in should there be any delays. The electronic equipment has the latest swipe technology. Staff routinely pack groceries. Such a contrast with many mainstream supermarkets at which “check out and pack your own” is increasingly the norm. I noticed a staffer carrying groceries out to a car. There is staff all over the place who answer questions. If someone does not speak English, they find someone who does.
In my visits to Osaka this week, I have had the most memorable experiences. When I asked a young man in the produce department how to eat persimmons, he took one he considered too overripe to sell, went off to wash it and came back offering me a half to eat. He said, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips, “You shouldn’t eat more than three persimmons a day.” Another young man was stocking the bakery shelves with red bean, walnut, coconut and natural rice cakes produced by the bakery itself. I was carrying some prepackaged rice cakes I had found on another counter. When I asked him how to eat them, he told me I had to put a few drops of water and some parchment paper over the top to make sure the crust does not burn, and then cook them in the oven for about twenty minutes. Then he said, “But you might like to try these rice cakes baked in-house, they are already cooked.” I said I’d take one and try it out at home. We then learned that a rice cake sampling was scheduled for a little later. When I said I’d come back, he took the cake I had chosen and said I should buy one at the sampling: “That cake will be fresher still.” When I suggested that maybe I should buy one of the large cakes with fruit and cookies being offered as a Chinese New Year special, he seemed positively disappointed. “Inside it is only an ordinary sponge cake,” he said. “It’s rice cake that we eat at Chinese New Year which brings good luck.” How could I resist?
I left the store with the sensation that someone cared. What a treat!!!!!