“I was just at Walmart, and guess what… THEY HAD MOONCAKES!”

Feng shrugs as if he is privy to top-secret information, like the People’s Republic of China’s plan to invade Canada using the MERBALP method—Massive Exports of Red Beans And Lotus Paste.

They should have hired me as a consultant. I would have suggested a more Western-friendly treat, like pineapple buns or egg tarts.

“How much for a box?”

“$15”

“Mmm… cheaper than in Chinatown. Maybe I’ll—”

“THAT’S NOT THE POINT! MOONCAKES! AT WALMART! Have you ever seen mooncakes in Western supermarkets?”

I was truly impressed. Mooncakes aren’t mainstream Chinese food like spring rolls, soy sauce or tofu. How many of you know that October 4 was 中秋节, the Mid-Autumn Festival when sharing mooncakes is one of the hallmark traditions in Chinese culture?

Maybe you did know. After all, I can tell you that Diwali is on October 19 and Indian traditions are foreign to me. Where did I hear of Diwali? You guessed it, in supermarkets again. Chickpea flour, ghee, Indian-style ice cream, golgappe, condensed milk and various snacks are on special. I also know when there is a big Jewish holiday (matzah on sale!) or when it’s Ramadan (dates and labneh on sale!).

We are a multicultural country. National grocery chains heard the message.

It’s been a few decades since even the smallest North American town has at least one ethnic restaurant offering some kind of exotic cuisine with recipes adapted to local tastes. Being able to order Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Arabic or Italian food isn’t exactly new.

But cooking international specialties in your own kitchen used to require patience and money. You had to locate that one grocery shop in an ethnic neighbourhood for imported ingredients—and pay a premium for them. Back in 2002, when Feng and I first came to Ottawa, there was one medium-sized Chinese supermarket in an industrial area and it was one of the only places where we could buy tofu, dumpling and Chinese vegetables. I don’t remember seeing imported French products in local supermarkets before 2008 or 2009—I had to go to the Italian deli for cheese and bread.

But somehow, over the years, international ingredients made their way into Canadian grocery chains. This is the good side of globalization, free-trade agreements and capitalism, I guess—food retailers had to meet the ever-growing demand from shoppers.

Last week, I took a picture of the mooncakes at my suburban Walmart and I started walking around the aisles with my phone to capture these products I’m used to seeing in Canada but that may be hard to find in regular supermarkets anywhere else in the world, outside of their country of origin.

Maybe that’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving—living in a country where cultures mix at mundane places such as supermarkets. Could world peace be achieved through food? It’s pretty hard to dislike another culture when you learn to enjoy its cuisine…

A box of mooncakes at Walmart
French Boursin cheese at Walmart
Vache qui Rit cheese at Walmart
Ginger roots at Walmart
Plantains at Walmart
Yu choy and bok choy at Walmart
Sweet tamarind at Walmart
Tropical fruits and Chinese eggplants at Food Basics
Rice at Walmart
Basmati rice at Walmart
Tahini at Walmart
Seasoning for Caribbean jerk chicken
British HP sauce at Walmart
Australian canned mutton (pricey!) at FreshCo
Soy sauce and various Asian sauces at Walmart
Asian and Sout-East Asian noodles at Walmart
Indian snack at Walmart
Indian instant noodles at Walmart
Ghee at Walmart
Italian food aisle at Walmart
Halal meat at Walmart
Halal meat at Walmart
French Danette yogurt at Walmart
French Bonne Maman jam at Walmart
Middle-Eastern flatbread at Food Basics
Naan bread at Food Basics
Instant coffee, iced coffee and tea at Walmart

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17 Comments

  1. I Say Oui October 9, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    What?? Ok, I am definitely surprised that Walmart sells mooncakes!
    Many of my non-Chinese descent friends here do not know about the Moon Festival.

    Did you find the same mooncakes in France? One year in Paris, I could only find Korean mooncakes, which are completely different. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right place.

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 9, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      I can’t remember seeing mooncakes in France, but I didn’t know much about them back when I lived there. And Feng and I are never here in September/October, i.e. mooncake season 😉

      What do Korean mooncakes look like? I like the Northern kind of mooncakes, with flaky pastry. I’m not a huge fan of the other kind (i.e. the ones sold at Walmart and most Chinese supermarkets here).

      Reply
  2. Bee Ean Le Bars October 9, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    I’m impressed. It’s going to take a while before French supermarkets start selling mooncakes.
    The Chinese shop close to my place only sell 4 mooncakes (one box) per year…

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 9, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      Did you check if that place by the miroir d’eau have them? I wouldn’t even know where to buy mooncakes in Nantes…!

      Reply
  3. Ramesh Sundararajan October 9, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    Hi

    Happy to see your post with Diwali information and Indian foods..By the way we reached Canada 3 weeks before ,Once again thank you for your wonderful blogs which one of the instrumental for me to immigrate to Canada

    Ramesh

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 9, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      Welcome to Canada! And should I say “happy Diwali” ahead of time? 🙂 I hope you’ll settle fine here and find the ingredients for the Festival of Lights!

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I wish you success and happiness!

      Reply
  4. Martin Penwald October 9, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    It seems that Québécois dairy producers are very worried about the newly enacted free trade agrément between Canada and E.U, but I’m pretty sure they could enter at least the French market through wine fairs.

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 10, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      I would LOVE cheaper dairy products in Canada. So yeah, I’m a big fat capitalist for this selfish reason, and I’m supporting the agreement 🙂

      Reply
      1. Martin Penwald October 11, 2017 at 12:21 pm

        I’m not convinced we’ll see a price drop, just an expanded offer.

        Reply
        1. Zhu October 11, 2017 at 10:42 pm

          I’ll take that too. Anything but vanilla yogurt/strawberry yogurt (the main two flavours here).

          Reply
    2. Zhu October 10, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      I would LOVE cheaper dairy products in Canada. So yeah, I’m a big fat capitalist for this selfish reason, and I’m supporting the agreement 🙂

      Reply
  5. Frenchie au Canada October 10, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    I don’t know if it’s because you are closer to Quebec than I am but French product is pretty rare here (well I did just buy Boursin this week 😉 )
    Vancouver has a large Chinese population so in some neighbourhoods you could only find Chinese grocery stores and some delicious fresh stuff. And yes I have definitively seen an increase in the variety of product in the “ethnic” aisle of the supermarket here in the last few years. I remember being super excited when mine first started selling “de l’eau de rose ou de fleur d’oranger”.
    And I knew about moon cakes, from your blog last year 😛

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 10, 2017 at 9:59 pm

      Yeah, it’s definitely because we are close to Quebec. I think there are a lot more French products in Montreal (although you may pay a premium for them). Once in a while, I go shop across the river, in Quebec, and supermarkets here have more yogurt selection and French products.

      What would be the main immigrant group around where you live?

      Reply
      1. Frenchie au Canada October 12, 2017 at 2:11 pm

        Main immigrant groups where I leave are Australians! Followed by the British!
        And I found some crêpes from Brittany yesterday! Made me think of you 😉
        And in answer to your comment to Lexie, I also love observing what can be found in supermarket and visiting supermarkets in foreign countries

        Reply
        1. Zhu October 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm

          That’s really unique! I can’t remember seeing a large group of Australians outside of OZ, except maybe backpackers in SE Asia. Sadly, they live on Vegemite 😆

          Reply
  6. Lexie October 11, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Comme à Ottawa on a maintenant une offre assez diversifiée au Québec aussi! Et notamment de produits français. Je trouve par exemple des mini Savanes chez le dépanneur de la gare 🙂 Ce qui m’amuse chez toi, c’est cette curiosité que tu as. Je ne suis pas sure que je ne serais interrogée à ta place sur la présence des mooncakes ou des produits indiens, j’aurais juste intégré le fait qu’ils étaient désormais disponibles lol

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 11, 2017 at 10:41 pm

      J’avoue que les supermarchés me fascinent! Enfin, pas tant le lieu que l’offre et les clients. Je trouve que c’est un bon endroit pour une étude sociologique. Quand on voyage, où qu’on soit, je finis toujours par mener mes petites études au supermarché du coin 😆

      Reply

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