Web unvirtual gone viral

A thin, drawn woman of about 40 walks along Somerset Street West one morning, her face hard-set against the approaching workday. But when she meets her two co-workers at the door of the hair salon, she grins almost maniacally as the gossiping that will carry them through their day begins.

Their laughter grabs the attention of a deliveryman two doors down, who pauses from his pallets of lemons and oyster sauce long enough to light a cigarette. A sign in a window across the street advertises Vietnamese subs, and he wonders if today might be the day he finally tries one. He looks at his watch and tells himself probably not; who knows where in the city he’ll be by lunchtime?

Fiona Mantha barely notices the deliveryman as she enters the Kowloon Market to get onions, but the twentysomething woman also looks at her watch. She has already picked up some cumin and garam marsala fron the India Grocery Store near Bronson, and calculates that she’ll have more than enough time to stop on her way home at Raw Sugar Café for a cup of tea with owner Nadia Kharyati. She wants to give Nadia her recipe for curry soup. “It’s cheap, healthy and delicious,” she says.

Raw Sugar is right by Chinatown’s Royal Arch, and all the ingredients Nadia needs for the soup are close at hand—spices from Nasa Food Centre down at Booth; canned tomatoes and chick peas from Shiraz, the Persian grocery store at the corner of Percy. She’ll add her own touch to the soup with some coconut milk from Kowloon; the clerk there recommends the Aroy-D tetrapak, and so Nadia gives it a try.

The warming soup quickly becomes a popular and comforting favourite on Raw Sugar’s menu. The deliveryman sitting at a small table wonders briefly why he’s never been in before to try it, but he has little time for such thoughts: he looks at his watch as he gets up to leave. With any luck he’ll be done his deliveries by five. On his way out he passes three women in white smocks by the large, bright front window, drinking jasmine tea and chattering all at once. He thinks their laughter sounds faintly familiar.

Fiona Mantha (pic by Cindy Deachman)

When in Chinatown, you typically make a beeline for your favourite pho joint or bonsai shop, never giving a thought to the inner workings of this quarter. Next time, though, slow to a saunter and look and listen for the stories. One affects the next, and your interaction with the waitress at the bubble tea restaurant or the grocery clerk will echo and reverberate with thousands of others through this tight neighbourhood to create a larger story.

Fiona now works alongside Nadia at Raw Sugar. This is the way a neighbourhood grows.


Over the run of Chinatown Remixed, the café is showing the large-format pointillist portraits by  James Brummel, while Erika Struck hangs her black-and-white photos of wood at Shiraz.

Whimsical—and lately, darker—illustrations by painter Daniel Martelock can be found at Kowloon Market. Daniel will also be conducting a painting performance outside on the grand opening day, May 12. He’s all for audience participation, too—now’s the time to clean your old paintbrushes.

Puppeteer & filmmaker Grant Harding explores the tension between who we think we are and who we really are at the Nasa Food Centre. Meanwhile, visit the vividly-coloured abstract expressionist paintings  from Shannon Willmott at the India Grocery Store.