Maeli Market is the first shop in Toronto to sell products sourced exclusively from Taiwan.
There are nearly 5,000 items imported from Taiwan, the mountainous subtropical island known for its bubble tea and night markets. The range is huge, from snacks like bubble tea nougat to housewares like rice cookers and meat cleavers.
Tucked away in a North York plaza, this sprawling shop was designed by Suulin Architects. It has a green feel to it, with giant bamboo lamp shades and a busy kitchen as the focal point of the store.
Co-owners and sisters Alice and Angel Chung come from a legacy of import.
Their parents own Kuo Hua, the 26-year-old trading company that was one of the first to supply large grocery chains like Loblaws with increasingly popular Taiwanese goods such as lychee jelly.
Thanks to those existing trade relationships, the Chung sisters can get their hands on some sweet products that can’t be found elsewhere in Canada, like preserved plums from the mountains of southern Taiwan.
Agriculture and conservation is big in Taiwan (the country is a global leader in vertical farming) so there’s an emphasis on natural ingredients and eco-friendly goods.
At the front of the shop, a section dedicated to sweets includes plenty of Hello Kitty-themed snacks and tin boxes of pineapple cakes, one of the most popular pastries in Taiwan.
They carry cakes from Kuo Yuan Ye, the Taipei pastry store chain dating back to 1867.
There are lots of face masks here, too, including a brand done in collab with popstar Jeannie Hsieh.
Meet all your bubble tea needs here without worrying about tapioca shortages: Maeli sells bags of tapioca pearls that range from dried to speedy pre-cooked versions and brown sugar boba ice cream bars.
Fridges hold goods like stinky fermented tofu and grassy jelly drinks. Forget shrimp crackers, opt for a huge bag of Lian-Hwa pea crackers instead.
The back of the shop carries an entire section of instant noodles.
Taiwan produces about 20 per cent of the world’s oolong tea, hence an entire wall dedicated to selling different types of it, like Formosa Pouchong Oolong, from tea companies that have been around for multiple generations.
There’s also black tea, milk tea and Earl Greys from the Nantou Country brand 3:15pm.
A section dedicated to all-natural soaps sits around the sink area. Gift-worthy bars come from Chumi and Teasoap, which was founded in Taipei 1957.
Vinegar, fruit syrups and fruit juice are a big part of Taiwanese culture. You’ll find rare varieties scattered around the store from star fruit concentrate to sugarcane passionfruit juice. Kumquat lemon syrups are particularly popular: you’ll find it on Maeli’s own food menu.
Formerly colonized by Japan, Taiwan still holds on to a lot of Japanese influences, including curry, mulberry vinegar and a deep, deep obsession for Hello Kitty.
A case of knives from Maestro Wu—the brand specializes in handmaking knives from bomb shell remnants—range from small fish knives to Gyuto style knives. The prices are reasonable, between $70 and $160.
Taiwanese households will feel a deep nostalgia for the multi-purpose retro orange-coloured Tatung rice cooker which does everything from steaming to boiling.
The kitchen peninsula, where you’ll find the giant basket steaming baos made in Taiwan, is actually shaped after Taiwan.
There are three options: braised pork belly, BBQ beef and veggie made with potato and soy protein, all $4.89.
Taiwanese popcorn chicken ($8.99) with fried basil leaves is a snack staple.
The bentos are a big standout for me. The braised pork belly ($11.50) is tasty but the fried milk fish ($11.50) is exceptional. Both come with burdock root, carrots, pumpkin slcies and white rice.
Even better that all bentos are made from compostable wood and are safe for both the microwave and the oven.
Maeli makes its own soft serve. Both flavours. Taro and papaya are simple treats, get them individually in a swirl.
You'll want to come to Maeli for its gem of a takeout menu but you'll likely end up staying for the huge array of Taiwanese products to discover.