48 Hours of Eating in Richmond, BC
RICHMOND, BC — When I told friends that I was going to Canada for the weekend, I couldn’t blame them for looking at me dubiously.
But then again, Richmond, British Columbia is just a two-hour flight away from the Bay Area, so it’s not as crazy a proposition as it seems. Add to that the fact that the U.S. dollar will buy you 30 percent more in Canada right now, and it’s a no-brainer, right?
Indeed, when the Richmond Tourism Bureau invited me as their guest on a weekend eating adventure, I was game to see just how much ground we could cover in two days. The answer: a lot.
Richmond is an island with a population of 210,000. Of that, 65 percent are Asian. As a tourism official explained: the Chinese were drawn to this area because the name of the city sounded like “rich man,” and made them think they could become wealthy here.
Of the 800 restaurants here, half are Asian. As such, it’s no wonder that you’ll find some of the finest Chinese food around in this city, plus a whole lot more.
My complimentary accommodations at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel were more than fine, but, ah, my kingdom for a kitchen, especially when I saw the incredible seafood for sale off the boats on the wharf. Fresh uni at three for $10! As well as King salmon, and head-on wild shrimp.
This charming historic fishing village, just steps from Fisherman’s Wharf, may look familiar to fans of ABC’s hit show, “Once Upon A Time,” as much of it is filmed here.
Just take a look at the sign for the town’s bakery, which capitalizing on the show’s fame, now sports the name, “Storybrooke Country Bread.”
It would be trite except this bakery — actually named Romania Country Bread — turns out exceptional bread. It makes just one type of bread; that’s it. The hearty, chewy, dense country loaf is full of tangy, fermented flavor. It’s about $10 for a loaf. With a smear of butter or a slab of cheese, you have the makings of a sublime snack.
You know the dim sum has got to be great if there’s a line out the door before the place even opens. Thankfully, we had reservations at Fisherman’s Terrace; otherwise, we would have been turned away like so many others who hadn’t planned ahead.
This upscale Cantonese restaurant is located inside Abderdeen Centre, the second largest Asian mall in North America. There are no carts rolling from table to table. Instead you place your order with a server, ensuring the food arrives fresh and hot.
Fisherman’s Terrace has a large selection of dim sum, including some I’d never seen before. The dumplings were plump, and the flaky custard tarts warm and wonderful.
This is apparently the place to come for pineapple buns. There is no pineapple inside. Instead, these soft, brioche-like buns have a crispy sugary top that supposedly make them look a little like pineapples. Hence, the name.
At Lido Restaurant, they are made regularly, so they are almost always fresh and warm when you get them.
For sheer decadence, you can ask for a pat of butter to slide inside the bun. A practically palm-sized pat at that. It’s buttery, sweet and squishy soft. Carb heaven.
Yuan Chen Tea
For a respite after all that food, look no further than Yuan Chen Tea.
This lovely little tea shop, which opened two years ago, sells beautiful celadon tea cups, stoneware tea pots, iron tea pot sets, and a large selection of teas from China, including several types of Pu’erh, fermented, aged tea thought to be especially healthful.
Enjoy a tea tasting, where you’ll learn the traditional way to prepare tea and how the flavor changes after various infusions.
Hong Kong BBQ Master
Having grown up in San Francisco, I’ve frequented Chinese delis from when I was a tot, accompanying my parents to Chinatown to buy roast duck, char siu and roast pork to take home for dinner that night. So, I never thought I’d go out of my way to visit one while on vacation or a work trip.
Hong Kong BBQ Master is a true hole-in-the-wall joint hidden away on in the parking garage of a large supermarket.
Owned by Eric Leung, the cramp, 15-year-old shop has all of 20 seats, and almost always a line out the door.
I can honestly say I’ve never had tastier char siu anywhere else. The one here is sweet, succulent and dripping with juice. The roast pork wears an armor of crackling skin that’s as crisp as it gets. Leung uses only the belly for this, too, so the meat is especially tender.
It’s not fancy food, but boy, is it outstanding.
Bubble Tea Shop
Sure, you can come for the bubble tea. But we came to the Bubble Tea Shop for bubble waffles.
Imagine a waffle that’s like bubble wrap. That’s what bubble waffles are like. Instead of the usual indentations, they have a grid of spheres, which you can tear off to eat with your hands.
Here, though, you’ll want to use a fork or spoon, because these bubble waffles get adorned with giant scoops of ice cream, fresh fruit, whipped cream and various sauces. The over-the-top waffle is presented on a wooden board.
They’re plenty big, so sharing is recommended.
Panda Night Market
For a taste right out of Asia, Richmond boasts two night markets. While other cities may host Asian night markets on various weekends, too, the Richmond ones are thought to be the longest-running ones, since they are held Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays starting in the spring and running through late-summer or fall.
Both markets started in 1997, according to tourism officials. But when the partners had a falling out, each went their separate ways and ended up starting their own markets.
The Panda Night Market, which runs from May through September, is the smaller of the two with more than 100 vendors.The more roomy venue makes it the market of choice for families, especially those pushing strollers.
At Panda Night Market, admission is free. Just be aware that both night markets are cash-only, too.
There is plenty of food to choose from, especially things on sticks or deep-fried. You’ll aso find vendors selling everything from inexpensive phone cases to Korean socks printed with everything from cartoon characters to President Obama’s likeness.
Richmond Night Market
The Richmond Night Market is the larger of the two night markets, with more than 200 vendors.
This market, which runs from early May to Oct. 10, can get really crowded with wall-to-wall people.
You’ll have to queue up to get in, and most likely at each food vendor’s stall. There is a $3.75 entrance fee, as well. So bring comfortable shoes, a good amount of patience, and a hearty appetite.
One of the longest lines is usually for Chef James Xin Jiang Man BBQ. Chef James Chen cooks at the Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver on weekdays. But on weekends, he can be found here, manning the grills at his stall that excels at cumin lamb skewers or anything else he dreams of putting on a stick.
In fact, his roasted sweet potatoes are irresistible, too, almost custardy in texture with added flourish from a squeeze of aioli and sprinkle of bacon bits.
Next to him, Javier Tam, who was born in Peru of Chinese descent, puts his spin on fish and chips. He fries up basa (a type of catfish), which gets super crisp and airy, then adds a squiggle of sauce or seasoned salt. It’s like a fish lollipop. Like any fried food, you want to eat it fast.
At this market, you’ll also find a stand serving the latest Pinterest sensation — raindrop cake. It’s a Japanese gelatin dessert that looks like a clear, wiggly, jiggly snow globe.
Made of agar agar and mineral water, it doesn’t really have much taste on its own. But you can get it embellished with black sugar syrup and soybean powder, condensed milk and cocoa powder, or red bean paste and matcha powder (which is what we went with).
With those additions, it makes for a light, very refreshing dessert. And one you’ll definitely want to snap a pic to remember.