The Joy of Choi

 

Illustrations by Janice Wu.

Illustrations by Janice Wu.

Asian veggies flourish in BC’s climate. A local project aims to connect Vancouver communities with these healthy seasonal eats.

 

By Bard Suen, hua foundation

 

Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of my mom and auntie taking me to Vancouver’s Chinatown for dim sum and baked pastries. After our stomachs were full from the fragrant shrimp dumplings, ha gow, and warm egg tarts, dan tat, we would walk down the street to buy vegetables to cook together later that evening.

 

Hua foundation co-founder Kevin Huang explains the Seasonal Choi Guide features to shopper Shelby Tay. Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com).

Hua foundation co-founder Kevin Huang explains the Seasonal Choi Guide features to shopper Shelby Tay. Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com).

 

As greengrocers yelled over each other, hawking the freshest, cheapest choi, my Auntie would teach me how to decipher what was freshest and how to pick the best bunches. The choi were always messily piled together, often covering any signage put up—which was written in Chinese script that I couldn’t read.

 

Growing up in a Chinese household in Vancouver, I quickly understood the importance of food in our families and communities. We often cook, eat, laugh and share stories over food together. For the Chinese community, food is a rich language of its own—one that is based on the grammar of love and care, and rooted in the value of strengthening our bonds with one another.

 

My mom would make my favourite dish, cold cucumber salad, on my birthday or if there was a special occasion. Now that I am older, I often go to the grocery store with my mom not because she wants to teach me how to choose the best choi but because she is getting older and needs a helping hand.

 

I go with her to carry grocery bags into her car and back home. More and more, I am concerned about the health of my mom, my family, and my community. I ask questions like: Where does our choi come from? What’s in it? Are there pesticides or chemicals that will make my mom feel unwell?

 

Chinatown Supermarket. Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com).

Chinatown Supermarket. Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com).

 

What most people do not know is that Asian vegetables flourish in the B.C. climate despite the fact that most of our vegetables in large Asian supermarkets are imported from abroad. Chinese farmers have been supplying Vancouver with fresh choi since the 1850s, and make up 15 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s farmers today.

 

And because of how fast Chinese choi is harvested and sold locally—often picked and shipped to Vancouver grocery stores within 24 hours—it is healthier for you, too.

 

On average imported vegetables spend five to 10 days in transportation and storage which can lead to a loss of 30 to 50 per cent of some nutritional components. Leafy green vegetables, like Chinese choi, can lose 50 to 89 per cent of their vitamin C content in just 48 hours.

 

That’s why at hua foundation we started The Choi Project, a program that works to put healthy, local, real food back on the Chinese dinner table. We wanted to answer the simple question of: Where can we get local and organic bak choi from?

 

We designed and developed a Seasonal Choi Guide which tells you what popular Chinese choi are grown locally and when they’re in season. Each guide includes regionally sensitive English-Chinese translations and pronunciations for Hong Kong Cantonese, Taiwanese Mandarin, and Mainland China Mandarin.

 

It also features beautiful artwork by local artist Janice Wu, who produced watercolour illustrations of our favourite choi.

 

We’ve also partnered with a small family-owned grocery store in Chinatown to implement signage that we hope will encourage more young people to shop in the neighbourhood—where there are lots of local choi being sold. Our signage includes Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English names, as well as indicators for what is local, in-season, and pesticide-free.

 

If you’re interested in expanding your choi vocabulary, we’ve made print-ready flashcards of the signage ready for download on our website.

 


 

The Choi Project Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com)

The Choi Project Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com)

 

Cold Cucumber Salad Recipe
 

The ingredients below are just guidelines: just add them in the order listed below and taste as you go. The salad should taste more tart and not too salty.
Ingredients:

 

•A bunch of thinly diced mini cucumbers (that are available in season, locally in Metro Van from now until about August. Talk to your family grocer and learn more about where they’re from and how they’re grown)

•≈ 3 parts chen chou / 陳醋 / sorghum vinegar

•≈ 1 part soy sauce

•≈ 1 part sui hing zjou / 紹興酒 / shaoxing cooking wine

•A few dashes of sesame oil

•A spoon or two of toasted sesame seeds
 

Directions:
 

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl together and marinate for two to three hours (the marinade should coat the cucumbers generously, and you might want to give it a toss halfway through to make sure it all gets bathed in yumminess).

Serve and eat the same day, but if you’re saving it overnight then make sure to store leftover cucumbers in a tightly sealed container and cover the cucumbers in the marinade so they don’t dry out.

 

Recipe courtesy of hua foundation.

 


 

Ken Lau, owner, Chinatown Supermarket. Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com)

Ken Lau, owner, Chinatown Supermarket. Photo by Julian Fok (julianfok.com)

 

 

About hua foundation
 

Hua foundation is a youth-driven nonprofit based in Vancouver, Canada. Our mission is to develop solutions and movements for the hua community that nurture sustainability and pride in our heritage. The Choi Project works to puts healthy, local, real food back on our family dinner table.