a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Feb, 2010

Taking stock

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa|Publishing/writing/career stuff|Recipes and Food

year of the tiger!Awhile back I paid a visit to the newish T & T Supermarket for an article I was pulling together for SavvyMom. (You can read it here.)

T&T, if you haven’t been, is a massive grocery store (owned by Loblaw) that is filled to the rafters with Asian foods. Visiting T&T – for me – is like taking a trip around the world (‘cept I haven’t left Ottawa).

Seriously, I could poke around there all day long. And stay for lunch. And maybe even dinner. 

I think exposing kids to other cultures and introducing them to how other people live, play, and eat is extremely important. For example, the lady ahead of me in the checkout line had a chicken – a whole chicken – in a clear plastic bag. It was utterly unlike the sanitized shrinkwrapped birds we get at the grocery store. This one had a head (still attached) and feet (ditto). Is it or is it not important that kids know what it is we’re actually eating? (This is a whole other post, isn’t it? Ok. Onward.)

The tiger decoration on the right is one that I picked up at T&T too. The little part at the bottom is a little envelope, and his head moves side to side.

I highly recommend a visit to T&T, whether you’re adventurous in the food department or not.

My new-to-me discovery was T&T’s fresh soup kits.

They can be found in the “fresh” takeout area. (I qualify it in this way because the takeout area at T&T is really big. It starts with sushi, and moves into dim sum and a BBQ counter, fresh dinner options, and ends at a bakery. The soup kits are between the dim sum and the bakery.)

The kits look like this:

Soup kit from T & T supermarket

It’s everything you need to make a particular stock (or broth). There are different varieties available, this is the one I happened to choose. It contained pork, dried mushrooms, honey date (?), carrots and turnip, and a very woody looking thing called burdock root (which was completely unfamiliar to me – and still is!). It was like dropping sticks of wood into a cauldron. I felt very witchy doing it.

I’m no expert – I just started making my own chicken stock – but this looked simple enough. Based on the (very short) instructions all I had to do was drop everything in a giant pot, cover with water, let it simmer for a couple of hours, and add salt at the end. And so I did.

Here’s what it all looked like when it was all unwrapped. There was a LOT. Pictured below is one of our dinner plates:

Soup kit from T & T supermarket

Soup kit from T & T supermarket

I had to pull out my biggest pot, a stock pot I received as a wedding gift and had previously only used to brine a turkey.

I followed the instructions. I knew enough to skim the foamy stuff coming to the surface as it simmered (ARE YOU PROUD OR WHAT?) but then I had a sudden thought. Was I supposed to peel the burdock root? The instructions didn’t mention it, but what if I was about to poison my family? I tweeted my concerns to the ever-helpful Don (@foodieprints) and we launched into a flurry of discussion and googling. Turns out I was ok. And no one was going to die as a result of my lack of B.R.A (Burdock Root Awareness). (Thank you Don!)

I strained the whole soggy mess and kept the broth. It turned out to be quite nice. It made A LOT. I used it that whole week to make lovely light lunchtime soups for myself. I’d boil up some rice noodles and add whatever I had on hand: fresh mushrooms or cilantro or green onion. Yum!

Some people out there might think that $7.99 is too much to pay for ingredients you could easily prep yourself, but I didn’t mind shelling out for a few unfamiliar ingredients, pre-chopped for my convenience, for a recipe I didn’t have to bother looking up.

What about you? Are you a soupie too? Ever been to T&T? I would love to hear what you buy when you go!

22 Responses to "Taking stock"

1 | bushidoka

February 11th, 2010 at 2:56 pm


OK, I’m going off on your tangent about kids knowing what they are eating. But first just a quick quip on-topic – Chinatown has always been a great place to escape to another part of the world and educate your kids on that sort of thing.

In any case, a funny story on your tangent. I’ve been talking with my (CSA and Beef) farmer lately about coming out to visit him regularly during this season so I can do a series of videos and articles on his farm, and farm life in general. I mentioned this to the boys (6 and 8) the other day, and asked them whether they would still be able to eat our beef if they got to know the cow first. My youngest – who is the real meat-a-vore – replied back instantly without skipping a beat – “Yeah! And we can even name it first, too!!!”

I laughed my head off, but his response also made me proud that we’re doing something right in raising them. They’ve always known in excruciating detail where meat comes from, in part because we do not believe people should eat meat if they are not able to come to terms with this basic fact.

Juxtapose this against this bizarre article.

2 | andrea

February 11th, 2010 at 3:06 pm


That is bizarre!

re: chinatown
We’ve often gone to shop on Somerset but T&T is bigger. And has more parking. :)

I don’t think my kids would like to eat meat they “knew” beforehand. I don’t think I would either. I should be a vegetarian! (The only thing that’s standing in my way is bacon. The rest I can live without.)

3 | Meghan

February 11th, 2010 at 3:46 pm


Taking the #2 bus to Chinatown is a cultural experience for most of us! My girls have lived in that area all of their lives and grew up commenting on what animal was hanging in the window.

This Christmas we went to Jamaica and stayed with a Jamaican family who slaughtered a goat just for us! Needless to say an eye opening experience for everyone. We need reminders of where meat comes form.

I want to check out T and T – only problem is I would end up buying way too much!

4 | Ron

February 11th, 2010 at 4:03 pm


Relish is the world’s greatest site for people who don’t mind shelling out a nominal amount to take the thinking out of cooking.

It tells you everything… what to buy, when to buy it and the recipes are easy and generally pretty good. It even generates a shopping list for you.

no cultural experience, but it makes dinner relatively brainless


6 | bushidoka

February 11th, 2010 at 4:19 pm


http://www.dailydinner.tv/ does that well too, and is local. Amanda and I met him at the “foodie blogger” meetup at the Urban Element last week.

7 | bushidoka

February 11th, 2010 at 4:20 pm


Aaaa, no way to delete

(shameful bow)

| sed s/Amanda/Andrea/


8 | bushidoka

February 11th, 2010 at 4:51 pm


I’m doing the 60 degree bow, shown here by Mr Toyoda apologizing for his disgrace in the big recall …

9 | Stefania (Ingredients for Life)

February 11th, 2010 at 5:03 pm


Hubby and I went to the store the week it first opened. We want to go back but haven’t had a chance. Such neat products, especially the produce. Very cool.

Chinatown is a neat experience but we have a huge problem with chickens and other animal products just sitting in a box out on the store floor. Where are the health inspectors? Plus, lots of the products don’t have any English on them. What exactly are you buying?

10 | Ryan

February 11th, 2010 at 6:13 pm


I love taking people to the local market when they come and visit Taiwan. It’s usually a jaw-dropping experience for most, at least the first time. The whole chickens usually elicit that response. :-)

There’s a lot of meat lying around, but that’s the way things happen here. As far as I know, there are more problems in Canada than here (listerosis?), but I don’t read the Chinese newspapers.

11 | Marla

February 11th, 2010 at 7:19 pm


I love our T&T, it’s great for Pocky and my favourite Green Tea powder with milk! Josie likes to pet the crabs. And we buy those soup kits all the time – my favourite has pork shanks, water chestnuts, carrots, honey dates and a package of mystery spice stuff. It also says on the label that it’s good for “intoxication and congestion”.

Suggestion – I’ve liked my soups made from them better when I browned the meat in a cast iron skillet, lubed with little olive oil and garlic first.

12 | bushidoka

February 11th, 2010 at 9:31 pm


Good point, Ryan. I lived in the Soviet Union for a year and the markets there were probably very similar (I’ve never been to Taiwan, so cannot say for sure). You get used to it, and there is probably not much that would shock me now. For thanksgiving that year I bought a 17kg (yes, kg not lb!) turkey and had to cut off its head and feet, and gut it myself, having had no idea beforehand how to do that. Fortunately it was already plucked. At least there is a great deal of honesty in doing it that way – no worries about anyone lying or being cheated – you pretty much get what you see.

13 | Betsy Mae

February 11th, 2010 at 10:06 pm


We don’t have that particular store here but we do make the drive into a neighbouring city to visit the Asian markets there. I also really enjoy it, it’s fun plus we always end up picking up things we can’t buy anywhere else. My kids love it too and often want to try this or try that, it’s a great way to encourage children to experiment a little.

I would buy one of these kits, I don’t think $8 is alot to spend, you’d spend that much or very close to it if you had to buy everything yourself.

I AM proud of you! Now you know how to make chicken broth and whatever the broth was that you just made, why not try and make up your own??? It’s so simple, I make it all the time, I love making my own broth/soup.

As for kids knowing where their food comes from, I don’t advertise as we’re eating it (because I would gag) but when they see the ‘piggy trucks’ we say that they are off to market and usually Bert or I say ‘poor things’ because it does make us feel sad to see their snouts poking out of the trucks. Anyway, the kids ask what kind of food is made with them and we tell them. It’s up to them whether or not they want to eat meat. I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this last paragraph!

14 | andrea

February 12th, 2010 at 8:09 am


Bushidoka – you’re hilarious – love the last link with the bow. :D

Ryan – it’s all what you’re used to, right?

Marla – browning the meat – will definitely do this next time!

I have to warn you, if you’re navigating these kinds of stores with young children the faux-pas risk increases exponentially. The girls and I were at a place in Chinatown once, and one of them pointed to a freezer full of something (it had appeared to me to be some kind of meat as it was shrink-wrapped on white styrofoam) and shrieked MUMMY — THEY EAT TURTLES HERE.

15 | Carla

February 12th, 2010 at 10:26 am


One library book we borrowed was of an artist’s paintings of her childhood in Mexico. One painting had a mom swinging a chicken by the neck to kill it and the write up under it talked about how the mom killed the chicken and they had it for dinner. Reading it to the kids I wondered what they thought of it (then 3 and 1.5 yrs old), until one day we went to my mom’s for dinner and she announced we were having chicken. And the 3 y/o said while doing a swinging motion with her hands “are you going to kill the chicken?” My mom was confused and in my laughter I realised that the kids had just integrated this knowledge in their brains and had connected the chicken eating with the chicken killing, which I thought was great.
Kids don’t have preconceived notions about stuff, they take their cues from the adults. If we say hey that stew meat is from cow and just go on, then they do the same; and the opposite would also be true.
I was a vegetarian for many years (political), then I married an Albertan and it was a slippery slope only accelerated by health issues later. We get most of our meat organic and local and I’m quite ok with the fact we eat animals; my father was a pig farmer for some years and seeing hanging pigs was just life. On a global scale, it’s really a luxury to eat meat regularly, in most places it is party food.
I think that the whole idea separation of animals that can be eaten and others that can’t is a byproduct of urban living which is detached from such things. Just like I think we need to know how our produce is grown and our mechanical products manufactured, we need to know were our meat comes from and that includes knowing what/who our meat is. I mercilessly teased a vegetarian friend who couldn’t handle knowing that marshmallows have cow in them (did you know that? most people don’t know that gelatin is made from cowbones). To her credit, she decided that was not a fair reason to be a vegetarian and has changed her ways.
On a tangential note, I find it fascinating this thing of eating something new and different all the time. Are our lives so boring that we need get our kicks from new food? mmhh being provocative there I guess. But there is something there about our relationship with food and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Ah totally didn’t stay on topic… oops

16 | Tali

February 12th, 2010 at 12:53 pm


The steamed buns at T&T are amazing! All the colours of the rainbow.

I am a vegetarian, and I make sure the kids know that the meat they’re eating comes from an animal, and what that animal is. They don’t care. Which is probably as it should be…it’s really more my job to make sure I’m buying sustainable, humanely raised meat, than it is their job to worry too much about it.

17 | bushidoka

February 12th, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Need new food all the time ? I hear you on that one Carla. I hand out on Ottawa Foodies and while it is mostly a great bunch, sometimes I don’t get this aspect of things. One of my life mottos is “just because you can, does not mean you should”. Part of this means humbling yourself, and not always going for tip-top absolute best. Which is contrary to what at lot of us teach our kids, I know. For me it goes hand-in-hand with vacationing in far-off places and so forth – it all comes back to sustainability. We all need to issue restraint in most of the aspects of our life that we currently take for granted.

18 | Nat

February 13th, 2010 at 12:26 pm


I didn’t realize the chain was owned by Loblaw… I keep meaning to go check it out. Maybe it will be Monday’s activity…

19 | bushidoka

February 13th, 2010 at 5:14 pm


Loblaw just bought it recently

20 | andrea

February 19th, 2010 at 11:55 am


I’ve been thinking about Carla’s comment about eating new foods: “On a tangential note, I find it fascinating this thing of eating something new and different all the time. Are our lives so boring that we need get our kicks from new food?”

I have to say I never thought about it this way, but I don’t think the fact that people like to try new foods a particularly strange phenomenon one way or the other.

90% of the foods we eat (at least in our house) are familiar favourites, and I’m talking about both processed foods (like cereal and orange juice) and non-processed foods like apples and bananas. Every once in awhile we branch out and try a new fruit (like a pomelo) or a new cheese. What’s the harm?

The world of food is so big: you could eat something new every day your whole life and never get around to trying everything. I’m not just talking about new fruits or vegetables, but ways of preparing foods that is new too.

I wouldn’t say that these adventures in food tasting is about getting our kicks .. life is much too short to limit ourselves to meat and potatoes, isn’t it? :)

21 | Switching things up and doing the grocery shopping at T&T Supermarket in Ottawa >> a peek inside the fishbowl

March 23rd, 2011 at 10:10 am


[…] this purchase was made over March Break at T&T Supermarket. I’ve written about them before. Have you been? It’s fun. I figured I had grocery shopping to do anyway, and the girls like […]

22 | Gwen

August 12th, 2013 at 10:19 am


I know this is a very old post, but I bought one of these kits at T&T last night and Googled them this morning. I’m taking a real risk and I’m looking forward to it! I plan to blog about my experience, much like you did. Would it be okay if I tracked back to this entry in my post?


Gwen Styles

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