There’s a new night market in Toronto — superfresh — that aims to bring a new cultural experience and create a safe space for people to celebrate and experience Asian cuisine.
Night markets are a tradition in parts of Asia where it is so hot during the day that people prefer to shop and dine in the evening.
Superfresh, which is located in the former Annex Food Hall at 384 Bloor St. West, pays homage to these spaces as an all-day night market that includes several vendors that center Asian street food, a bar, a bodega and a speakeasy.
“As children of immigrant parents from Asia, we grew up a certain way, but we never really felt the urge or the comfort to share a lot of the things we love. This space is really about bring it all together,” said local restaurateur and superfresh partner Trevor Lui.
A fresh idea
The idea for superfresh began last spring when Annex Food Hall co-owner and partner James Lee reached out to Lui.
Lee tells CBC News that he and his company were struggling with the pandemic, closures and losses in the food and hospitality industry, like many others. Add to that the rise of anti-Asian hatred. The free time gave him the space to reflect on the changes he wanted to see.
“I think it was a bit of a crisis of conscience. When Trevor and I were talking, we said, you know, something’s wrong. Let’s make some changes and then we said, ‘Yeah, we want to do something. something that is shamelessly Asian. Something we can be proud of.'”
Around this time, Lui and Lee teamed up to partner with fellow restaurateurs Jae Pak and Dave Choi to create their vision of super fresh.
The partners say their ideas grew from a simple store to a place representative of their cultures, lived experiences and, most importantly, people.
“We talked about making an entire space a community hub, instead of having to go to different places for a great cocktail, different types of Asian food, shopping, and community programs,” Lui said.
Between five closures, supply chain issues and a lack of manpower, Lee says the small team had to take on a lot of work themselves that they normally wouldn’t, designing and building the space from scratch.
One of the ways the team behind superfresh wanted to bridge this gap was to find vendors that cater to different needs, especially Asian women.
Christina Pack was one of those people. She owns Auntie’s Supply, a small Asian market based in downtown Toronto that offers snacks and ingredients for Asian millennials.
Pack first moved from California to Toronto during the pandemic for work and decided to open her business because she couldn’t find most of the Asian ingredients she needed for cooking in stores in her neighborhood.
“I saw very small sections of shelves at Sobeys and Loblaws, but nothing really organized to be a first or second generation immigrant child. So I wanted to showcase a lot of these new brands that people of my generation craft and also tie in the traditional ingredients that I grew up with,” Pack said.
“No more chicken meatballs, no more Korean barbecue”
This first targeted community approach is what Lui says he chooses to have with all of superfresh’s food, vendors and initiatives.
He says they want to break the mold of what people think of traditional Asian cuisine.
“No more chicken balls, no more Korean BBQ. What we want to do is bring things to a community that people don’t have to seek out, like Indonesian street food. When it comes to cooking Japanese, we didn’t want to just make sushi and ramen. Let’s make katsu sandwiches and shokupan milk bread,” Lui said.
As May is recognized as Asian Heritage Month in Canada, Lui says the launch of their space is meant to go beyond just 31 days to represent multiple diasporas.
“We sometimes struggle to have a unified voice, even as vendors, because of how Asian food has been perceived over the years, even from price and size,” Lui said. “So the perspective of building a safe space, during Asian Heritage Month, is to elevate who we are and know that we deserve to serve and sell the things we think they’re worth.”
Lui says superfresh will also promote Asian culture in the GTA by partnering with members of the Asian community and hosting live events featuring local art, music, sports, and more.
He says that although Asians have been in North America for a few centuries, dating back as far as the Gold Rush and the construction of the Canadian railroad, it has taken a long time for the Asian community to find a voice.
Tells him he hopes to use this voice to help people understand aspects of Asian culture, community and cuisine with their space while reconnecting people to their roots.
“We want it to be a space where anyone can come and learn all the other things they don’t know about Asian culture, including the fact that Asian just doesn’t mean Korean or Japanese or Chinese, and that there are 41 countries in Asia, including the foods, cultures and people behind them.”