Shirley Chua-Tan and Eng Khoon Chua weren’t sure what they were getting into when they opened the Yukon Asian Market on Wood Street in November, 2020. Motivated by a strong sense of community, the job of providing their customers’ favourite Asian foods has posed many challenges.
“We had never done it before,” Chua-Tan says. “We had to do renovations. We just did not know the challenges, especially in the North.”
One of the challenges has been consolidating orders from many suppliers. It doesn’t make sense to bring in partial pallets, but few suppliers wanted to be responsible for others’ goods.
“So it’s finding the angel among all the suppliers who is willing to help us,” Chua-Tan says.
“So honestly, people are really, really kind out there. Everyone is willing to help.”
That’s great news, because we’re all benefitting from Yukon Asian Market and the incredible variety of food that fills its shelves and freezers. For instance, there are soy and chili sauces from numerous countries, and the same goes for noodles.
“We have one of the biggest selections of noodles – rice noodles – in town,” Chua-Tan says, pointing to several rows of shelves.
There are products from many countries, including China, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Korea and the Philippines. When I ask how many countries are represented, Chua-Tan shrugs her shoulders.
“I don’t know,” she says. “We even have some Mexican.” If a customer asks for something, she’ll try to find it for them.
And the selection is impressive. There are vegan products that taste like beef, pork and shellfish, myriad types of flour; fish balls, unagi and abalone, Vietnamese sub sandwich meat, lemon Thai chicken and Kung Pao chicken.
“I’m really proud of this range,” Chua-Tan says of the latter meals, which she says taste better than what you find in a restaurant.
Has she tasted everything, I ask?
“Yes, almost,” Chua-Tan says, laughing.
The market also carries local products including dog treats and Cold Acre produce. Chua-Tan hopes to be carrying local meat soon.
Market customers can also find kitchen supplies such as bamboo steamers, which are a hot seller. There are nifty hotpots with a divider so that you can cook two different things at once, for example, a spicy dish on one side, and a non-spicy option on the other. Or a vegan meal and a meat-based meal in one pot. Chua-Tan says that the hotpots make “the best wedding gift ever,” especially for couples who have different food preferences.
The Yukon Asian Market also offers take-out lunches with daily specials. The meals are cooked in an area of the building’s basement which once housed an enormous furnace. Chua-Tan recognized the value of the space and the furnace was removed to accommodate a modest kitchen. There are plans to make an in-house chili sauce.
However, Chua-Tan, whose background is in local real-estate, will not be making the sauce.
“I only know how to sell houses,” she says.
Chua-Tan also has a long history of volunteerism and recently stepped down from the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, she was named vice chair for the Social Inclusion Working Group of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ Autism Assessment.
The latter appointment comes from Chua-Tan’s personal experience. Her son, Ernest, is autistic. As Chua-Tan and I peruse the shelves of the Market, she brings my attention to a book that sits amongst the hotpots. From the Parking Lot to the Podium is a book she wrote about Ernest and his journey to becoming a Special Olympics World Games medal winner in swimming and cross-country skiing. Chua-Tan credits the Yukon for providing him with the support to become a world-class athlete.
Giving back to the community that boosted their son and made him an athlete is what motivated Chua-Tan and Chua to buy the building on Wood Street.
“It is the Yukon who taught [Ernest] to do all this … they gave him a chance. So why are we not giving people a chance?”
In spite of a career in real estate and volunteer commitments, Chua-Tan is constantly bringing new ideas and energy to the Yukon Asian Market, including a fun challenge for folks willing to taste durian – the “king of fruits” – which smells terrible but tastes delicious. It allegedly has restorative and aphrodisiac qualities. A few Whitehorse municipal councillors have risen to the Durian Challenge, as have several residents in Old Crow.
Folks can find durian fruit products and all the Yukon Asian Market’s offerings at 310 Wood Street. To see what’s new at the market, including what’s for lunch, follow the Yukon Asian Market on Facebook: www.facebook.com/YukonMarket