Recently I had someone respond to one of our posts “For The Love of Ramen. Deep Love” pointing out that all the ingredients called for in the 2 recipes were available at our local Fong’s Market. I wrote back thanking the person and agreeing that the shop was a treasure trove of ingredients typically difficult to source on the Coast. Then the idea came to me; “Hey, Fong’s has a lengthy history in Gibsons, is very much a stand alone business and wouldn’t it be cool to do an article “An Icon in our Midst”. Pretty heady word to be bandying about but the store is completely unique in our region. The Sunshine Coast can boast the oldest continuously running movie theatre in Canada, another cinema originally designed by an iconic Canadian architect, picturesque piers and wharves but Fong’s is in it’s own category.
Now in it’s 3rd location (it was originally at 459 Marine Dr, then moved to 451 and now 455 Marine Dr), the Chong Family purchased the business from the Fong’s in 1984 and are the proprietors to this day. Tain Sung Chong moved from Sabah, North Borneo to Edmonton for a job in his original profession, welding. Not long after his arrival, the desire to create something of his own took hold. He met his soon to be wife and in 1981, after sourcing the business in Gibsons, the couple embarked on their adventure. Excellent decision. Much nicer than Edmonton. A store not unusual in Victoria’s Chinatown or Vancouver’s prior to it’s current, downtrodden state, Fong’s is essentially a general store. A “little bit of everything” shop with a particularly strong selection of Asian food stuffs.
I’m always in pursuit of new dining experiences of which French, Spanish and Italian figure prominently. But for all the cooking I do, grilling aside, Mexican and Asian cuisines are probably served most on our table. The complexities of flavours the different food cultures offer are remarkable and relatively easy for the home cook to replicate. The Coast Culinary fridge and pantry are packed with oils, spices, pastes and sauces from all parts of Asia and need replenishing often. Prior to moving to the Sunshine Coast, finding everything required to prepare these dishes typically meant making a few stops around the city. Our local “Icon” spares me from having to go to those lengths when I make the journey in.
In that snug little store is a miniature A-Z of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indian ingredients no one else up here can hold a candle to. You can find many of the items if you drive the length of the Coast but walk through the doors of this modest and eclectic little shop and it’s all there. If surprisingly they don’t have it, they’ll bring it in for you. That couldn’t be said of the big box stores as it just wouldn’t be economically feasible or realistic for them. Fair enough. A bonus too that is it allows specialty stores the opportunity to flourish and adds character to local communities. Win win. Being that general store sort of idea, you also find standards like milk, peanut butter, paper towel and such but next skinny isle over you’ll find hardware not to mention the bamboo steamers and Chinese porcelain you would’ve passed on the way in.
When I asked 2nd generation Crystal Chong what makes up the majority of their sales, all those staples you’d expect a corner store to be popular for definitely figure prominently. But for those of us for whom food is a driving passion, their selection of Asian groceries make Fong’s the go-to destination on the Coast.
People can’t presently enter the store due to the confined space inside but the family happily serves customers from the entrance. Hopefully restrictions ease soon as much of the pleasure of shopping at Fong’s is perusing the floor-to-ceiling selection of myriad wares.
If you have any questions regarding ingredients for replicating dishes in your own kitchen or perhaps want some input into Chinese / Malaysian cooking, The Chongs can offer a personal insight. They’re a cooking family.
To the person who wrote to Coast Culinary Collective making mention of Fong’s Market, thank you for providing the inspiration to write this. It’s been an enjoyable and worthy story to document.