Not long ago, if you needed vegetables or meat or maybe flour, you would head down to your neighbourhood butcher, baker or grocer to restock the pantry.
Nowadays, with major grocery chains dominating the market, that’s generally no longer the situation.
Yet in Chinatown, where niche, hole-in-the-wall delicatessens still line Fisgard Street, sometimes with exotic-looking foods hanging in the windows, that nostalgic neighbourhood feeling is still a reality.
Loy Sing Company, a cooked meat store, has been in operation for 129 years. The current owners cook a whole pig everyday, which is typically all sold by the end of the day.
Co-owner Shelly Rong said the shop thrives because of its longevity and because of the food.
“You keep the food good then everybody comes back,” she said. “Lots of people know this, even people far away in Vancouver, they know the place already. I don’t need lots of advertising, they know we’re already here.”
Just around the corner is the Victoria BBQ House and Bakery, which serves a wide variety of savoury and sweet buns and other baked items, along with meat.
Owner Ken Ng, speaking through his bilingual daughter Helen, said the variety the shop offers keeps it alive, along with offering products not found at the larger grocery stores, and a more personal shopping experience.
“The customers, when they come, you kind of get to know each other and they become regular customers,” Helen said. “I guess it’s the atmosphere. (Grocery stores) are so big, you don’t really get to know anybody. But usually these places, it’s always the same people.”
Across Government Street and up Fisgard a little ways further you’ll find K&N Chinese Herbs, a traditional herbalist. Here, everything from Chinese yams to dried seahorses to various roots and fungi are sold to help ease all types of ailments, from the common cold to chronic pain.
Herbalist John Wong recently sold the store, but still mixes the soothing concoctions and spends his free time in the back of the shop practicing traditional Chinese calligraphy.
The herbalist, along with the other mom-and-pop shops of Chinatown, survives and thrives, thanks to the committed locals who have helped keep such businesses a stalwart of Victoria culture.
Come down to Victoria’s Chinatown and find various ethnic favourites. Among them:
– Crispy pork
– BBQ pork
– Peking duck
– Sponge cake
– Almond biscuits