Before most students leave for university, they get a pep talk from their parents. Usually these talks fall along the lines of “don’t drink too much” or “stay away from bad people.” Mine was a bit different, to say the least. One of the last things my father said to me before I moved across the country was that if he ever found out that I had bought pre-packaged food, he’d ship my ass straight back to La Belle Province.
It might seem weird to some, but Mediterranean families tend to be like this. With a Moroccan father and an Italian mother, my house was no exception. My father worked in the restaurant business and at least 95 per cent of conversations on the Italian side of my family revolve around food.
My problem wasn’t so much a longing for homestyle food as it was the struggle to find the right ingredients. Italian and Moroccan cuisine is all I know how to make, and while there are a plethora of shops to choose from back in Montreal it was difficult at first to find places in Vancouver that had the quality ingredients I was longing for. But with a little bit of patience and some exploration, I eventually stumbled across two shops that held all of my heart’s desires.
Persia Foods, 2827 W Broadway
Persia Foods may be part of a chain, but that doesn’t stop it from sourcing different ingredients from all across the Middle East and Northern Africa — stuff like dates, apricot and fig jams, and literally tons of different spices. One little trick is to go up to the counter and ask for the “Saffron Special,” which is a pack of decent quality Iranian Saffron for a bargain price of $3.99. They also have arguably the cheapest produce prices in the city.
Parthenon Market, 3080 W Broadway
Just down the street from Persia Foods is Parthenon. While this may be a Greek shop, they sell tons of Italian products: from Grissini breadsticks to De Cecco pastas to San Marzano tomatoes to other European delicacies. Their price point is higher, but their products come straight from the source, so you pay for what you get. Italian food in general isn’t complicated, you just need to have good ingredients and then it becomes idiot-proof.
All of the spices and fresh produce, as well as the mergeuz sausages can be found at the grocers listed in this article. There are a lot of steps in this recipe but don’t freak out — take your time with it. Mistakes will be made but that does not mean you should quit after the first try. Be patient, buy good, healthy ingredients and you can do anything in the kitchen.
While there are plenty of other shops, these are the ones that tend to stay consistently stocked with the best ingredients for Mediterranean food. A lot of the time when I cook, people tell me they wished they knew how to make food from the Mediterranean. The truth is that I’ve never looked at a recipe in my life and neither did my father. There was a French term we would use when it came to cooking, se débrouiller, which effectively means to figure it out as you go. The beauty is that you can go into both these shops in one day and combine ingredients from the two. When it comes to Moroccan, Italian or Mediterranean home cuisine, there are no real boundaries or rules.
Couscous Royale was the last meal my father made me before leaving Montreal and it was one last reminder that when I moved out, j’allais me débrouiller — I was gonna figure it out.