Olympic Neighbourhoods: the Punjabi Market

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

Your Olympic Neighbourhood this week is…the Punjabi Market!

punjabi market

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly and how do I get there?

JOHN: The Punjabi Market is easily found at the corner – the nexus, if you will – of Main and 50th Streets, although this Googlemap will tell you that it exists here, at Main and 49th – the neighbourhood lives between 51st and 48th streets and is a must see stop on your Olympic visit. Rumour had it that this was the proposed location for The India Gate, a superawesome design meant to be an homage to the pioneers of Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian community. Problem is, the gate wasn’t there – or it was really, really, really small. According to our friends at Translink, you can get to the Punjabi Market in 24 minutes from the Robson Square Olympic Celebration Headquarters. Hop on the Canada Line or Expo Line and then look for the 003, 025 or 049 buses.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

JOHN: This neighbourhood yields the highest number of jewelry stores in the entire country. So, if you like things that sparkle, that’s reason enough! Speaking of things that sparkle, the authentic Indian clothing stores sprinkled throughout this neighbourhood cannot be missed. Whether you’re going to an Indian wedding or not – maybe you just really, really hope you get invited one day – this is the place in the Lower Mainland to get your saris, suits, kurta pajamas, salwar kameez, shermanis, dhoti kurtas, turbans, dupattas and more!

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: Look, friends. When it comes to a good curry, don’t mess around in the “Indian” or “Asian” section of your local conglomerate of a grocery store. Book off an afternoon and travel to the Punjabi Market to collect all the best spices this side of Delhi. While collecting these culinary staples, stop for lunch, a snack or dinner at one of the Punjabi Market’s fantastic restaurants. The All India Sweets & Restaurant is a popular community-destination for locals and tourists alike. Kurt and I also got four amazing samosas for two dollars from a very nice man in a parking lot. Delicious.

KURT: To get a little more specific I’d like to recommend the samosas. When John and I were last down there we bought four for only … wait for it… $2. That’s right – its South Asian prices right here in Vancouver. Can’t be beat.

The India Gate is just a block away...trust us...
The India Gate is just a block away…trust us…

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood?

JOHN: Check out the Sunset Community Centre during the Olympics (and after, if your flight gets canceled) for all sorts of supercool cultural events. Kurt and I were lucky to do our walk-though of this hotbed of community-minded-activity during a rehearsal for the Vancouver Parks Board’s Community Happenings, a celebration of Vancouver’s cultural landscape that will be happening in a neighbourhood near you throughout the entire Olympic experience. Get out there and enjoy yourselves!

KURT: If you happen to be around the neighbourhood in April, make sure not to miss Vaisakhi. It’s a massive festival that tens of thousands of South Asians (from across the Pacific Northwest) take part in. During Vaisakhi, dozens of floats, marching groups, Khalsa school attendees, politicians, and gawkers mingle in the middle of the street. On either side are dozens of small kiosks (some manned by grandmas) all giving away thousands of dollars of free food. It’s an amazing smorgasboard of delights from curry to prakoras. All homemade. Well worth the traffic jam you need to navigate to visit it.

5. What are your three favourite things about the Punjabi Market?

1. The Food. Best. Samosas. Ever. And they were two bucks. The difference between curry and real curry are the spices. Do the right thing. Visit the Punjabi Market.

2. Celebrating Bollywood Hindi Cinema. A nice chat with some folks in one of the many, many, many Bollywood-specialized video stores in the Punjabi Market taught me a valuable lesson about the pitfalls of accepting Bollywood as the only expression of Indian film – it’s just the most popular and internationally renowned one. After all, in a country of over one billion people that recognizes over 15 languages as “official” ones (Editor’s note: seriously, Canada, stop pretending it’s hard to manage two) can there really be just one kind of Indian film?

3. Bright Colours. I live on the Drive, man. People wear black a lot. It was a pleasure to see some brightness for a change, especially against the eternally gray backdrop of the wintery West Coast.