New Asian night market – superfresh – find showcase culture, cuisine and community

There’s a new night market in Toronto – superfresh – that brings a fresh cultural experience and creates a safe space for people to celebrate and discover Asian cuisine.

Night markets have been a tradition in parts of Asia where it gets so hot during the day that people prefer shopping and dining in the evenings.

Superfresh, which is located in the former Annex Food Hall at 384 Bloor St. West, pays homage to those spaces as an all-day night market that includes multiple vendors that center Asian street food, a bar, a bodega and a speakeasy.

“Being children of immigrant parents from Asia, we grew up in a certain way, but never felt the inclination or comfort of sharing a lot of things that we love. This space is really about bringing it all together,” said Trevor Lui, local restaurateur and partner of superfresh.

A fresh idea

The idea for superfresh started last spring when Annex Food Hall co-owner and partner James Lee reached out to Lui.

James Lee, superfresh partner and co-owner of Annex Food Hall. (Mehrdad Nazarahari / CBC)

Lee tells CBC News he and his business were struggling with the pandemic, lockdowns and losses in the food and hospitality industry. Add to that the rise of anti-Asian hate. The time off gave him the space to reflect on changes he wanted to see.

“I think it was a bit of a crisis of conscience. When we did it, you know, something doesn’t feel right. Asian. Something that we can feel proud of. ‘”

In that time Lui and Lee came together to partner with other restaurateurs Jae Pak and Dave Choi to help create their vision for superfresh.

The partners say that their ideas have expanded from their cultures, lived experiences and most importantly – the people.

“We talk about making one whole space as a community hub, as opposed to having different places for a nice cocktail, different types of Asian food, shopping and community programming,” he said.

From five lockdowns, supply chain issues and a lack of labor, Lee says the small team had to take on a lot of work themselves that they usually would, designing and constructing the space from scratch.

Christina Pack, owner of Aunties Supply. (Mehrdad Nazarahari / CBC)

One of the ways the team behind superfresh wanted to bridge that was finding vendors that fit different needs, especially Asian women.

Christina Pack was one such person. She owns Auntie’s Supply, a small Asian owned market based in downtown Toronto that curates snacks and ingredients for Asian millennials.

Packed moved from California to Toronto during the pandemic for work and decided to open her business because she couldn’t find any of the Asian ingredients needed to cook in local neighborhood stores.

“I have always wanted to feature a first or second generation immigrant kid. So, I wanted to feature a lot of those new brands in traditional ingredients I grew up with, “Pack said.

‘No more chicken balls, no more just Korean barbecue’

That targeted community first approach is what Lui says they have with all food, vendors and initiatives at superfresh.

He says they want to break the mold of what people think mainstream Asian food is.

Trevor Lui, local restaurateur and partner of superfresh. (Mehrdad Nazarahari / CBC)

“No more chicken balls, no more just Korean barbecue. What do you want to do? to just do sushi and ramen. Let’s do katsu sandwiches and shokupan milk bread, “Lui said.

While May is recognized as Asian Heritage Month in Canada, Lui says the launch of their space is going to take longer than just 31 days to represent multiple diasporas.

“We struggle sometimes to have a unified voice, even as vendors, because of the way Asian food has been perceived over the years, even from pricing and the size,” he said. “So, the perspective of building a space that is safe, in Asian Heritage Month, is to uplift who we are, and know that we deserve to serve and sell the things that we believe it’s worth.”

Community hub

Lui says superfresh will also promote Asian culture in the GTA by partnering with Asian community members and hosting live events that feature local art, music, sports, and more.

He says that while Asians have been in North America for a couple of centuries, going as far back as the gold rush and building of Canada’s railway, it took a long time for the Asian community to find a voice.

Lui says he’s hoping to get people to understand their Asian culture, community and cuisine with their space while also reconnecting people to their roots.

“We want this to be a space where everyone can come and learn about all the other things they don’t know about Asian culture, including the fact that Asian, Japanese or Chinese, and there are 41 countries in Asia, including the foods and the cultures and the people behind it. “

Dishes at superfresh will range from Northern Chinese noodles, to Indonesian street food, Japanese snacks and Taiwanese fried chicken. (Mehrdad Nazarahari / CBC)

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