With a population that’s 65 per cent Asian and with the largest proportion of Canadian residents of Chinese ancestry (45 per cent), Richmond is THE North American Mecca for Asian cuisine. Declared by everyone from the New York Times to Conde Nast Traveler as having “the best Chinese food outside of China,” freshly-prepared dim sum, frothy bubble tea, flaky pasties and steaming bowls of congee await at every corner. Richmond’s bustling city centre, dubbed the Golden Village, is Canada’s most vibrant Asian community and the best place to indulge in this award-winning Chinese fare. From vast food courts in Hong Kong-style shopping centers to strip mall hole-in-the-walls, there’s never a shortage of gastronomic gems to discover. Also within this one-of-a-kind district resides the famed Alexandra Road, locally dubbed ‘Wai Sek Kai’ or ‘Food Street’, where 200-plus Asian eateries have organically sprouted within a three-block radius. With such numerous dining options, navigating Richmond’s rich culinary scene can sometimes prove a daunting task for first-time visitors, so we’re listing the city’s top six (a lucky number in Chinese culture) signature dishes to help get visitors started:
1) Xiao Long Bao
These plump little dumplings are widely considered a pivotal dish within Shanghainese cuisine and their careful preparation culturally represents the packaging of luck. A Chinese New Year staple, be careful not to pop these pork dumplings directly into your mouth – they are full of a hot, juicy “soup.” The broth within these steamed delights comes from a meat aspic filling that melts with heat. To properly consume xiao long bao, take a small bite out of the side of the dumpling first and then suck out all the remaining juices before biting in.
Where to get it: Suhang Restaurant and Shanghai River are both beloved Shanghai-style eateries with succulent xiao long bao offerings. And the modern Dinesty Chinese Restaurant recently snagged top honours for their soup dumplings at the local Chinese Restaurant Awards.
2) Chinese BBQ
It’s a big no-no to leave Richmond without sampling some of the meaty morsels on offer from the city’s specialty butcher and grocery stores. Succulent cuts of pork, beef and poultry are tantalizingly displayed every which way you look, usually ordered freshly chopped and taken home to be served alongside steamed rice.
Where to get it: Aberdeen Meat and BBQ in Parker Place, one of Richmond’s three major Asian malls, is renowned for its crispy roast pork. Upon stopping by for a taste last autumn, Los Angeles-based food writer/photographer Matt Armendariz called the butcher shop the “happiest place on earth.” Just be prepared for a bit of a wait – around 5 p.m., there’s a queue of locals outside the door.
3) Hot Pot
A sort of Chinese variation on stew, diners choose from an assortment of veggies and meat, cooking everything in a large pot of boiling broth. A cozy and intimate experience, hot pot meals are served in a communal style, with everyone around the table using the same pot of soup base. Popular as an all-you-can-eat dining option around Richmond, platefuls of items like frozen tofu, seaweed, mussels, taro root, cuttlefish balls and sliced pork jowl are brought out in abundance. Lovers of spice should sample the Szechuan soup base – laden with anise, peppercorn and red chili peppers, it packs plenty of punch.
4) Har Gow
These traditional shrimp dumplings are a staple order when indulging in Cantonese-style dim sum and are generally considered the dish by which a dim sum chef’s skill is measured. They are typically accompanied with hot mustard and XO sauce (a spicy chili sauce containing dried scallops and garlic).
Where to get it: Fisherman’s Terrace, located on the upper level of Richmond’s largest Asian shopping mall (Aberdeen Centre), is one of the most established dim sum eateries in the city. Featuring a large and varied menu served in a grand dining room with crystal chandeliers, dim sum chef Tony Wong has spent over 15 years perfecting his har gow preparation method.
5) Sweet Crystal Eggs
This cold Taiwanese appetizer is extremely difficult and time-consuming to produce – it requires precise boiling, cold shocking and marinating. The end result is an egg with a honey-like flavor and in which the yolk is neither runny nor completely solidified.
Where to get it: Delicious Cuisine won a Chinese Restaurant Award for their perfectly-prepared variation of the delicate dish. The restaurant boils their eggs in a soy sauce broth sweetened with sugar and spiced with star anise and ginger.
6) Hong Kong-Style Baked Pork Chop and Rice
Most often seen on the menus of casual Hong Kong-style cafes, baked rice dishes are a comfort food amalgamation of Western and Eastern influences. This version features a breaded and fried pork chop placed upon a bed of fried rice and topped with tomato sauce.
Where to get it: Cattle Café – also located on Alexandra Road (“Food Street”) – was declared the best Hong Kong-style café at the 2012 Chinese Restaurant Awards and their consistent quality is evident in the scores of hungry residents who frequent it daily. In addition to the standard baked pork chop and rice combination, they also serve up a unique “duo” plate where half the dish is pork chop and the other half is seafood smothered in a white cream sauce. Tip: Cattle Café’s portions are extremely generous, so come hungry and prepare to go home with a doggy bag.