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Dine Around China in Richmond BC

Fernando Medrano Fernando is a food commentator whose name is well-respected in social media circles. He has his finger on the pulse of what Vancouver diners are eating and what they think about it through his contributions to, and

North American food writers and other lovers of Asian cuisine have long discussed Chinese food in Vancouver BC with a great deal of enthusiasm, if not reverence. Many have gushed that Vancouver has the best Chinese food in North America, and perhaps the world. Those who live here, however, know that to find the best Chinese food, you have to travel just a bit south - to the city of Richmond which is the true epicenter of Chinese cuisine here.

On the surface, Richmond is just like any other modern North American suburb with all the usual amenities: wide streets, a modern transit system, large shopping malls, strip malls, chain restaurants and coffee shops. But, over the past couple of decades, there’s been massive Chinese immigration to the area, which has dramatically shifted the landscape. What used to be an agricultural suburb has been transformed into bustling Asian flavoured city.

At the north end of Number Three Road, Richmond’s main drag, is the area the locals call “The Golden Village” where interspersed within this familiar North American suburban matrix are clusters of Chinese eateries, Chinese herbalists, Chinese shopping centers, and many other signs of distinctly Asian commerce. Here, dining options range from humble food courts stalls at Richmond Public Market, to the independent mom-and-pop restaurants such as Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen, and to the soaring, opulent modern restaurants like Red Star Seafood. Alexandra Road, which runs perpendicular to Number Three Road, is a side street so dense with Chinese eateries that locals call it “Eat Street.” With hundreds of options, surveying the Chinese dining scene in Richmond is a truly daunting task.

As a result of historic immigration from China’s coastal regions, Cantonese food and, to a much lesser extent, Shanghainese and Taiwanese cuisine have come to dominate Richmond’s Chinese dining landscape. With China’s recent openness and burgeoning economic global presence, new waves of tourism and immigration to Canada from the northern and western Chinese provinces have added to the diversity of Chinese regional cuisines available here. One can now readily find eateries specializing in more esoteric cuisines from Sichuan, Hunan, Shandong, Xian, Xinjian regions to service this new demand.

This demographic mix is only a part of the confluence that makes Richmond’s Chinese dining scene so unique. Ready access to both imported Asian ingredients and high-quality local ingredients, a deep pool of cooking talent, and a city that is full of affluent, discerning diners all together push this cuisine’s quality upwards and it’s modernity forwards.

The Jade Seafood Restaurant
8511 Alexandra Road
Tony Luk, winner of the 2010 Chinese Restaurant Award Chef of the Year, presides over a kitchen that serves some of the best Cantonese dim sum in Richmond. However, it is at dinner time when they really shine.The Smoked Grandpa Chicken is Chef Luk’s take on tea-smoked Chicken - moist, tender and subtly smoked. Tea leaf seems to be one the chef’s favourite ingredients - the Pork Ribs Braised and Grilled with Tea Leaves is another great invention - offering a smokiness to the already complex tasting sauce. The Braised Whole Fresh Abalone highlights the fish’s subtle flavours and texture. A tip: if you are a solo diner, order from their smaller portioned Tapas Menu (available at dinner).

Red Star Seafood Restaurant
2200-8181 Cambie Road
Hidden in the second floor of the President Plaza at the Radisson Hotel, Red Star Seafood has established itself as one of the local innovators in modern Cantonese cuisine. The kitchen does not shy away from using unfamiliar ingredients and techniques to create food that is true to tradition, yet modern and fresh. Highlighting locally sourced feature ingredients, Red Star’s Wild Rice and Dungeness Crab exemplifies this culinary ethic.

HK BBQ Master
Unit 145-4651 No. 3 Rd, Richmond
Truly masters of Roast Pork (Siu Yuk) - HK BBQ Master has been quietly serving customers in an unassuming location within a parkade beneath a large supermarket off Number Three Road. Their roast pork is unrivalled in this city - unctuous layers of fat and lean meat capped with a veneer of crispy, bubbly skin. Their other BBQ items are also quite good, but their Siu Yuk is best in class.

Tsim Chai Noodles
Unit 50-8251 Westminster Hwy
Wonton Soup Noodles are an everyday lunchtime staple for Hong Kong expats - and here at Tsim Chai Kee they serve it like they do back home: in smaller bowls full of flavourful broth with large shrimp and chopped pork wontons sitting on top of a tangle of thin, al dente wheat noodles. Their secret blend of roasted dried seafood provides their pork, chicken and prawn shell-based broth with an elusive and gratifying depth. If you have a hankering for something more hearty, their Brisket Noodle soup - its complex broth redolent with star anise and other red spices - is Hong Kong in a bowl.

Shanghai River
Unit 110-7831 Westminster Hwy
The opening of Shanghai River signaled the coming of age of Shanghainese cuisine here. With a distinctly modern interior and patient, attentive  service, this is a decidedly upscale destination. Their rendition of the Shanghainese classic dish - Xiao Long Bao (Juicy Pork Dumplings) has sheer, translucent skin and a flavourful ginger infused broth. Their extensive menu of other Shanghainese dishes does not veer far from tradition with dishes such as Shi Zi Tuo(Lion’s Head Meatballs) and Drunken Chicken. New York Times food writer Sam Sifton writes that their Pork Ribs in Black Vinegar and Pine Nuts “are reason to swoon: addictive jet-black nuggets of fried sweet and sour porkiness that can float a fellow into the city on a cloud of happiness.”

Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen
8095 Park Road
Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen, located in an unassuming strip mall on Richmond’s Park Road, is a casual, old-school Shanghai restaurant. Chen’s Xiao Long Bao, which they list in their menu as “Baiyulan mini steamed buns”, is their claim to fame. Thin skinned, and bursting with flavourful broth, the Xiao Long Bao here is been a draw for many locals and gastrotourists as witnessed by usually long line ups. But don’t ignore the other worthy offerings on their checklist menu. Try their surprisingly juicy Shan Jian Bao, a panfried cousin to the more famous Xiao Long Bao; or their Smoked Pomfret in Brown Sauce and the Sticky Rice with Shredded Pork. Complete your order with a steaming hot soy milk and you have yourself a classic Shanghai breakfast.

Bushuair Restaurant
Unit 121-4600 No. 3 Road
At Richmond’s only Hunan restaurant, you’re greeted at the door by illustrations of the Chairman Mao Zedung, Hunan province’s most famous son, and avowed lover of the chili pepper. Here, they serve fiery hot renditions of traditional dishes such as Smoked Hunan Bacon with Garlic Stems, the Hot Pickle Pepper Green Bean, Mao Braised Brown Pork (which, apocryphally, was the Chairman’s favourite dish), and their “Dual Head” which is more commonly known as Steamed Fish Head with Red and Green pickled chilies. Don’t be afraid to ask them to prepare your food “da la” -  spicy.

S&W Pepperhouse
6400 No. 3 Road
This modest restaurant on Richmond’s main drag of Number Three Road is home to some of the most authentic Sichuan cooking you will find in the area. The food is at once fiery, rustic, and deftly prepared. Try their La Zi Ji (Deepfried Chicken with Dried Chilies and Sichuan peppercorns) and Shuizhu Yu - Water Boiled Fish (a incendiary hotpot of whitefleshed fresh Tilapia in a pool of chili oil topped with Sichuan peppercorns). Perhaps their best dish isn’t even Sichuan - it is more of a condiment from the province of Guizhou: their Peanut and Cilantro with Black Vinegar appetizer. They also use this mixture to top a Chinese Restaurant Award winning dish called Guizhou Style Fresh Tilapia with Cilantro and Chili.

Golden Spring Szechuan Restaurant
Unit 160-4200 No. 3 Road
Golden Spring's concise menu sticks to the more common Sichuan dishes. Try their Hui Guo Rou (Double Cooked Pork), and their Fen Zheng Pai Gu (Braised Spareribs Steamed with Rice). For the more adventurous offal lover, try their Fried Pork Intestine with Pepper and their Huo Bao Yao Hua (Fire Exploded Kidneys Flowers) . As if to highlight the authenticity of the offerings here, Golden Spring offers two versions of the Sichuan street food classic - Dan Dan Main.  One rendition - noodles minimally dressed with chili oil and preserved vegetable - is simply is listed as "Authentic Dan Dan Mian."

Amigo Restaurant
Unit 160 - 8291 Alexandra Road
La Amigo is a popular Hong Kong style cafe which serves Western style cuisine with a Chinese twist. Hong Kong Cafe cuisine is often called si yau sai chaan or “Soy Sauce Western” food, which is reinterpreted European and American favourites prepared with a Chinese sensibility. You will find dishes like Beef Stroganoff and Italian Pastas right alongside Cantonese classics such as Fried Noodle with XO sauce. Their Cajun Chicken, a nod to the Macanese classic "African Chicken",  is an addicting concoction of pan fried deboned thighs served on a paprika cream sauce.

Kam Do Restaurant & Bakery
8391 Alexandra Road
Kam Do is one of the numerous Hong Kong style cafes here. Alongside the usual Hong Kong Cafe fare, Kam Do also has some of the most popular Cantonese baked specialties in the city. Particularly notable is their famous Lao Por Bing (Wife Cake), a classic flaky pastry with a sweet winter melon filling. Come early because they sell out fast.

Liu’s Taiwanese Restaurant
1423-8388 Capstan Way
Tucked away behind a Taiwanese-centric strip mall at the edge of The Golden Village is Liu’s Taiwanese. What used to be a hole-in-the wall restaurant serving Taiwanese snack favourites recently had a modernizing makeover. Their new interior decor follows what seems a template set by a multitude of these small, modern Chinese eateries which cater to Richmond’s young Asian diners. The neon lighting, abstract chandeliers, and flatscreen TVs belie Liu’s traditional take on Taiwanese cuisine. Classics such as Deep Fried Chicken Nuggets with Basil, Oyster Pancakes, and Three-Cup Chicken are perennial favourites amongst its devoted and youthful following.

Pearl Castle
Unit 1128-3779 Sexsmith Road and
Unit 1380-4380 No. 3 Road
Pearl Castle’s youthful patrons come here for the premium take on Bubble Tea, Shaved Ice, Blended Fruit, East-West fusion Hotpots and Taiwanese fried snacks. Here, the selection of awkwardly named drinks (“White Lover”, “Passionate Dream”?) can include concoctions of blended fresh fruit,  premium tea, various jellies, and  of course, tapioca pearls.  The formula of Bubble Tea, deep fried foods and late night closing times have made Pearl Castle a popular spot for the young Asian night-owls.

Mui Garden Restaurant
5960 Minoru Boulevard
Mui Garden, the popular family owned mini-chain, is known for their Hong Kong inflected renditions of Malaysian curries, made with coconut milk and with their own blend of spices, which are much milder and sweeter than their authentic inspirations. However, it is their Hainanese Chicken Rice (called “Hai-nam Chicken” on their menu) that is perhaps their most popular dish; it glistens with collagen and is accompanied with the traditional “Oily Rice” made with the chicken poaching broth and a duo of chile and ginger dipping sauces.

Richmond Public Market Food Court
8260 Westminster Hwy
Agriculture-themed sculptures of farm animals, tractors and windmills decorate this large atrium-like space, providing a quaint reminder of this market’s recent past as a traditional “farmer’s market” akin to Vancouver’s own Granville Island. That project suffered a slow death but the building has been resurrected as a bustling Chinese market, emblematic of Richmond’s transition from sleepy agricultural town to the Chinese dominated suburb that it is today.

Upstairs are food court stalls serving food which ranges from run of the mill Cantonese to the more interesting stalls from Xian and Xinjiang. Asian food courts serve as a beachhead for these more obscure and less viable regional cuisines. At the Xian stall, the proprietor serves authentic renditions of La Mian (Pulled Noodles - made to order), Rou Jia Mo (Xian “Burgers”), Xian Yang Pao Mo (Xian Lamb soup with Shredded Pancake) and Fen Zheng Rou (Pork Steamed with Rice). At the Xinjiang stall, they serve cumin and chili dusted Yang Rou Chuaner (Lamb Skewers), Nang (Xinjiang flatbread) and Xinjiang Pizza (a Nang covered with spiced ground lamb).

Aberdeen Center
4151 Hazelbridge Way
In stark contrast to the modest and functional design of the Richmond Public Market is the sleek and upscale Aberdeen Center. Complete with a Ferrari dealership on the ground level and a store that sells hundred thousand dollar Fazioli pianos, Aberdeen Center has become a draw not just for mall shoppers, but also for foodies. The bright and spacious food court on the third floor offers a wide variety of Asian treats including the Japanese chains Beard Papa’s and Strawberry Cones Pizza.  Wo Fun’s famous Chicken Wings, fried to order and infused with Sand Ginger, are a local favourite. Shanghai Shanghai serves admirable renditions of Shanghainese fare. Aberdeen Center is also home to a number of the top Chinese full service restaurants: Fishermen’s Terrace, Northern Delicacy, and Master Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle.

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