The Metro Vancouver region is blessed with a multicultural smorgasbord of excellent food. Our regional cuisine places a high value on fresh ingredients and seasonality. Local chefs have long valued the ingredients provided by local farmers and fishers. Chef’s cooperatives, events like “Meet your Maker”, and even apps for smartphones have connected the people that produce the food with those that prepare it. The cultural diversity in our region has benefited our palates, but it does come with some challenges.
Newcomers to Canada will often seek out foods that are familiar to them, and may be reluctant to try some of these strange foods that are native to our region. Although shopping at markets is a common experience around the globe, it can be intimidating if the food is unfamiliar. Providing recipes and cooking ideas that feature our local food is one way to break down these barriers.
Many farmers in our region have responded to shifting demands and consumer tastes by increasing the variety of product they grow. Many producers are responding to specific demands for Kosher or Halal products. As these markets grow, we all benefit from the interesting dishes and new flavours as we expand our own dietary horizons. Many crops that are transported great distances to satisfy the desire for ethnic foods, can be grown in Canada.
From a CBC news story: Glen Filson, a professor at the University of Guelph, identified a potential demand for “fresh, locally grown ethnic vegetables could be worth $61 million a month in the greater Toronto area alone.” The Chinese community are looking for bok choi, Chinese broccoli, and eggplant while the South Asian community seeks okra, eggplant and bitter melon. Those in the African-Caribbean community also would look for okra, along with African eggplant, garden eggs and callaloo, also known as smooth amaranth.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Lower Mainland’s produces 1.5 million kilograms of Chinese vegetables annually. The MOA web site offers the following description:
WHAT ARE CHINESE VEGETABLES?
Chinese vegetables are vegetables that are associated with oriental cooking. The most popular Chinese greens are bok choy, choy sum, gai choy, sui choy and gai lan. Others include Chinese cabbage, daikon and lotus root. Bok choy is also called Chinese chard. The most common type has thick white stalks with large, dark green, oval-shaped leaves. Chinese cabbage has a long thin, firm head of leaves. The outer leaves are pale green and the inner leaves are almost white with a thick mid-rib. Daikon are also called Chinese turnips or Japanese radish. This is a spherical, oblong or cylindrical root which is available all year. Lotus root resembles flowers when sliced.
These shifting trends in consumer taste provide farmer’s market shoppers an amazing opportunity to experiment with some lesser known exotic vegetables. If you are new to Canada and are missing something from home, talk to the farmers and ask if that product can be grown here. Some farmers love experimenting with new crops and the results are sometimes surprising. The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables continues to grow every year, opening new markets and opportunities for experimentation.