Canada is a wonderful mosaic of ethnicities. From a foodie perspective this presents an amazing opportunity not only in terms of food fests and food event but also in the abundance of ethnic shops. A bit of research may be needed to get address of these shops but it is well worth the effort. Most major Canadian cities will have established pockets of ethnic culinary delights like China Town or Little Italy but there are many more. Snuggled comfortably in these pockets of ethnicity is one of the most amazing culinary opportunities possible. Even more surprising to the variety of foods available is the prices! Foods the supermarkets don't carry can often be found here and if the supermarkets do carry them they are more expensive than the ethnic shops. Shopping the ethic shops not only gives a wider variety of foods but less expensive. This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 topic is shopping the ethic shops.
- location - In general the ethnic shops will be located in small pockets within a city where a larger number of that particular ethnic immigrants have settled. For example many large Canadian cities have a China town. Don't discount smaller communities though but rather get to know your neighbours. One small community we lived in had a number of Portugese families that had various Portugese foods, grapes and tomatoes delivered right to their door and while the service was geared towards serving these families they would not turn down business from others. Some small communities in particular are mainly one ethnicity meaning a bit of a gold mine for wonderful foodie finds. A good example of this is some of the small (less than 400 people) French communities scattered throughout Ontario. In areas where there are Amish and Mennonite settlements it will be possible to find a lot of excellent bulk food buys, canning supplies, meats, cheeses and that type of thing.
- what to expect - Most ethnic shops are mom & pop operations with family members working right along with them. These shops tend to be small, unpretentious and large signage is not the norm. In larger centres they might not be as quaint but still along the same lines. In some areas there may be small and I do mean small supermarket style shops that will have more foods of that particular ethnicity. A good example of this was the Bravo that we stopped at on vacation that had a lot of Mexican foods. Some ethnic shops will sell in bulk in quatities as large as 50 lb of rice or beans.
- variety - Expect to find a strong presence of foods that particular ethnicity likes to cook with. That includes snacks, seasonings, dry ingredients, canned or bottled foods. If you are in a Chinese shop expect those types of foods like noodles, rice, dried fish, sauces, and those types of things but if you are in a Mexican shop expect a heavier emphasis on beans, hot peppers, and hot sauces. Some ethnic stores also carry fresh produce.
- prices - My experience has been that in general the cost of food will be between 10 and 20% cheaper at ethnic stores when compared to supermarkets. There are a few reasons for this. First being a mom & pop operation with nil to minimal wages to pay out keeps the overhead lower as does the smaller sizes of the shops. Here I can buy an 8 kg (20 lb) bag of long grain rice in our local grocery store for $7.99 yet at Bravo a 25 lb bag of long grain rice was $5.99. Dried beans, rices and many spices tend to be cheaper in the ethnic shops. The price difference is due to supply and demand. In that particular ethnic community rice is in high demand to the shop owner can afford to sell at a lower price making profits off of quantity sold. A lower price keeps their customers coming back so they generate repeat business.