Sharing food, sharing history

Steve Ram, owner of All India Sweets & Restaurant. | Photo courtesy of Steve Ram

Later this month, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation will be hosting Heritage Week 2018, an annual series of events that honours and shares the rich history of our city. One of the upcoming events is Sunday Morning at Punjabi Market, which will be an opportunity to learn about the history of South Asians in Vancouver, take a tour of the Punjabi Market and eat some good food.

Taking place on Feb. 25, the event will begin with a conversation and talkback at All India Sweets & Restaurant, a long-time social hub and landmark within the Punjabi Market. Naveen Girn, cultural researcher and co-founder of the South Asian Canadian Histories Association, will be one of the speakers.

Sharing stories

This event is an opportunity for storytelling,” says Girn, “and for learning about the history of an area that sometimes gets forgotten. Specifically, it will be about how the market emerged –
around 40 years ago – from a light sprinkling of South Asian shops to a major focal point for the community.”

A walking tour will showcase some of the important shops and stories of the market. For Girn, who has fond memories of visiting the market with family and friends when he was younger, this is a way to help keep these stories alive.

“It’s important for people to share these stories because it’s an opportunity for people to learn,” he says. “And at the same time events like this also keep memories alive. It’s important for people to understand the history of the market, and why it’s important for the community.”

And Girn doesn’t believe the history and stories of the Punjabi Market should be restricted to only one community.

“Even if one has never come to the Punjabi Market, the talk will be a great opportunity to learn about the cultures in Vancouver, learn about the city as it has changed over time. If we can find connections between different communities, that empathy can be a way of building a greater sense of home for everyone,” he says.

A special place

For Steve Ram, owner of All India Sweets & Restaurant, Feb. 25, 2018 will be a day where he can share the history and meaning of a place and community that has always had a place in his heart.

“[Going to the Punjabi Market] was an experience,” says Ram. “You’d go and you’d think ‘wow, look at this part of Vancouver.’ It was an amazing experience for both the people living here and the people visiting. As a kid, I used to love going to All India, never knowing that one day I’d own it.”

Naveen Girn, co-founder of the South Asian Canadian Histories Association. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver Perspectives

Ram has owned All India for eight years, continuing the rich legacy of the establishment. In some ways the restaurant is one of the defining features of the Punjabi Market; a few years ago, when the Vancouver Heritage Foundation selected the market as one the sites for the Places That Matter project, it was All India that accepted the plaque on behalf of the market. Ram says that unfortunately though, the market is not the same as it once was.

“The Punjabi Market is quite diminished from what it was, say ten years ago,” says Ram. “Costs is one of the reasons: Vancouver real estate is not cheap. Some people have retired, some have moved, some couldn’t afford the rent… it’s a bit of dying market, but the history is still there.”

Ram says that despite the shrinkage, the spirit of the community is still very much alive, and he was reminded of that recently when All India had to relocate. When he announced the original building was to be torn down, Ram was overwhelmed by the reaction from the community.

“The amount of support and the amount of people who cared was just amazing,” he says. “It’s what makes what we do fun.”

One thing that Ram says he learned quickly after he bought All India is that the restaurant is not just a business. Its meaning to the community, and its meaning to so many individual people is what Ram hopes to share not only with this Heritage Week event, but also with every dish he serves.

“When we got into this we bought a business; we didn’t know how meaningful the place was within the community and the market. We didn’t start this, but we have the honour and privilege to continue its legacy,” he says.

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