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Vancouver Chinatown is an ideal example of the constantly changing landscape within a city. Take a stroll today and you will find a plethora of gifts to take home, each influenced by the old and the new. Although there are many unique treasures I would relish to take with me right now, here are a few of my favourite finds in Vancouver’s modern historic Chinatown:
Traditional Pu’erh Cakes
Before entering Treasure Green Tea Company last weekend, my only prior experience with Chinese tea had been at dim sum. Others may be interested to learn that the dark, bitter drink served alongside pork dumplings and spicy chicken feet is not at all a fair representation of authentic Chinese tea. True Chinese tea is handpicked from select regions in China and is sold either cooked or raw, depending on your preference for flavor. It is expertly packaged with intent, aged with care, and before drinking, is always washed before the first pour. Ms. Olivia Cheung, second-generation tea merchant and original family owner of Treasure, was happy to share her knowledge with me upon my visit to her shop.
After expressing interest in finding a special gift to share with the blog, she offered a tea tasting of one of the shop’s vintage Pu-erh teas. Pu-erh is a delicate tea that varies in flavor depending on its origin, fermentation and age. Pu-erh actually is one of those rarities like wine or cheese that appreciates with age, making this a genuine treasure in today’s round up. Pu-erh teas are traditionally pressed into the shape of an oval cake for easy storage, wrapped in paper for breathability, and sold as a unit of trade. Today, the tradition of Pu-erh cakes lives on—with the exception of its value! Prices for Pu-erh cakes at Treasure range from $20-$1,200. Stop by for daily tastings and to learn more about the wide variety of authentic Chinese teas.
Chinese Ceramic Pots
I have lived in Vancouver for 26 years and only stepped into Bamboo Village for the first time last Saturday afternoon. Bamboo Village has been around for over 35 years, importing everything from red lanterns to full-sized terracotta warriors. After getting lost within the hundreds of amazing knick-knacks and collectibles, I quickly understood why this quirky family-owned establishment remains within the heart of modern Chinatown. If you have never been inside, the big sign with the giant panda out front is a good indication of what to expect (a ton of kitschy-cute things you never knew you needed).
Bamboo Village is a haven for tourists and locals alike. The surprisingly large family-owned shop has proven itself as a neighbourhood institution with its distinctive charm, and looks likely to survive the changing of times in the years to come. My favorite items of the day were the Chinese ceramic pots painted in classic white and blue. They come in a variety of sizes for every type of indoor/outdoor plant or common dishware and start as low as 99 cents apiece! A top-pick today, I’m certain my favorite will change on my next visit there, given Bamboo’s incredible selection.
Ai & Om is one of the newer shops in the neighbourhood. The shop specializes in a range of Japanese import knives hand-selected by owner Douglas Chang. Each knife is sold individually with its own casing and story, which makes one of Ai & Om’s exclusive knives a great gift for anyone who loves or is learning to cook. Between the $85 beginner knife and the $2,000 specialty sushi sword, the Konosuke 210mm Gyuto seems to be the best choice gift, for a friend or myself. This mid-range chef’s knife is a solid standard with a traditional octagon Ho Wood handle, adding a special touch to this functional but very aesthetic piece.
Even if you’re not particularly in the market for a new knife, Ai & Om is worth popping into to admire the latest design project of local architects Scott & Scott. The shop is a beautiful minimalist space and represents the values of a simple, well-made product. The owner of Ai & Om also offers workshops, sharing his knowledge of the craft and his culinary expertise with the public. In contrast to the one-time exchange of purchasing a knife, these workshops provide opportunities to build relationships and community in the neighbourhood. The popular knife-sharpening classes are open to the public, but must be booked in advance.
Every gift needs an accompanying card, and sometimes the best gift is the card itself. The Eight Treasures Shop, located inside Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, offers a selection of traditional handmade and modern items for the curious shopper. Each piece seems thoughtfully curated, and the shop specializes in Asian gifts and collectibles that promote the arts and culture of the community. While browsing the shop, I noticed that a number of items included an artist’s signature and story. The shopkeeper was excited to share her knowledge of all the local artists, many of whom have been partnering with the shop for a number of years. I fell in love with these handmade cards inspired by the iris of an eye or a camera. Each is colour coordinated and folded into place over a pattern, creating a spiraling design. The papers are sourced from Japan, Australia, Nepal and India. Entrance to the shop can be found at the end of the Garden’s tour.
About the Author
Emily Louie is a freelance editorial writer, copywriter, and small business brand manager and consultant based in Vancouver, Canada.