As a kid, I spent a fair bit of time in Vancouver’s Chinatown, both with my parents and my grandparents. We’d go down there to grab some lunch and to do our grocery shopping. Unlike the more “supermarket” approach that we have today, shopping for groceries back then was much more about piecing together just the right ingredients. We had one specific shop that we’d visit for vegetables, a different shop for poultry, and another for dried herbs.
There may have been more than one butcher, but we’d always go back to the same one. The same can be said about choosing our favorite barbecue meats, like charsiu (BBQ pork) or soya sauce chicken. I remember going to Goldstone Bakery, Maxim’s Bakery and The Boss Restaurant, delighted at the breakfast specials that included “Asian” French toast (with kaya filling) and a hot horlicks. I remember when Pine House Bakery first opened up and how everyone thought it was so much cleaner than the alternatives. And we can’t forget about the “mixed beef” noodle soup at Hon’s either.
A lot has changed with Chinese culture in Vancouver in the last couple of decades and the same can be said about the makeup of Chinatown itself. I don’t go down there nearly as often anymore, but when I do, I notice all these changes.
There are more herbal shops, likely for the tourist appeal, and far fewer “grocery” stores to pick up fresh vegetables. Whereas there used to be at least three toy and collectibles shops on Pender Street west of Main, only one tiny shop remains. And then there are the hipsters and the “gentrification” of the area with trendy eateries and Matchstick Coffee.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se, but this is certainly different than the Chinatown of my childhood. Even New Town Bakery has moved a couple of shops over to much more open and cleaner digs. Many of the old school folks have either passed on or moved on, likely to Richmond or some other suburban enclave. And whereas Taishanese (“Toi San”) was the de facto Chinese “dialect” of my youth, there’s a lot more Mandarin now.
As much as things change, much of it also stays the same. The dirty alleys my mom and I used to take as shortcuts across Chinatown are definitely still there. You can still go to the same shops to pick up the fancy qipao (“kay-poh”) for weddings and head next door to grab your everyday china, incense, and other supplies.
And then there are the highly addictive chicken wings at Phnom Penh, a Cambodian restaurant that my family knew as “Vietnamese” for the longest time until I found the truth for myself years later. The Internet helps.
I’m not really sure what was the “point” of today’s post aside from a nostalgic walk down memory lane for me. Maybe I yearn for those simpler days of my youth. Maybe I question what Chinatown will represent to the next generation of children.
Will they still hang out at the dingy diner in the slummier part of town, just so they can enjoy a pineapple bun with grandpa and his elderly friends? I sure did.
All of the photos in this post were taken with the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone that I recently reviewed on MEGATechNews.com. It’s a pretty great camera phone.