“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?”
“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…