THE UNASSUMING TOWN OF RICHMOND, B.C. DELIVERS EXCEPTIONAL CHINESE FOOD.
By Alexandra Gill
A BEGUILING SUBURBAN EXPANSE OF CONCRETE STRIP MALLS AND LUSH MARSHLANDS, Richmond, B.C., is the most Chinese city in the world outside of Asia.
It’s home to the Vancouver International Airport, easily accessible from downtown Vancouver via the Canada Line SkyTrain, and globally acclaimed for its exceptional restaurants.
Yet, for many visitors and locals, Richmond’s enticing array of Cantonese steamed crab, Tianjin breakfast crepes, spicy Sichuan hotpots, hand-pulled Shaanxi noodles, and cumin-crusted Xinjiang skewers is terribly intimidating.
Where does one even begin?
I hear you. Sixteen years ago, when I started reviewing restaurants for The Globe and Mail, I wanted — and needed — to write about these essential eateries. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Chinese cuisine was limited to takeout egg rolls and late-night chop suey.
I humbly contacted some Chinese food experts — a group that would later form the judging panel for the Vancouver-based Chinese Restaurant Awards — and asked them to teach me.
Gradually, with much hand-holding, I learned how to discern a good siu mai dumpling (hand-chopped pork is key) and how to order a balanced family-style meal with confidence (don’t forget the palate-refreshing greens), and I figured out why most Chinese dining rooms eschew mood lighting (look up yeet lau).
I can’t honestly say I’ve acquired a taste for duck tongues, but I do appreciate the importance of their sinewy cartilage and can grapple my way around other texturally challenging dishes.
Eventually, I became proficient enough with Chinese cookery to join the Chinese Restaurant Awards as a judge.
And when I recently launched Dine Like a Critic, a tourism company that offers small-group culinary experiences, a Rich- mond excursion seemed like an obvious fit. It is also the tour most frequently requested by Vancouverites who, like me all those years ago, want to explore the epicurean riches in their own backyard.
These are a few of the restaurants we visit on the tour and others that I love.
A creative Cantonese banquet-style restaurant that deftly appeals to both restrained Hong Kong palates and the more opulent tastes of nouveau riche Mainlanders. To wit: empress chicken, an elevated version of the cold-poached standard, trimmed with black truffles. If dining on dim sum, don’t pass on the exquisite egg-white-custard tarts and chicken wings stuffed with goose liver (foie gras, really) and sticky rice.
Often misinterpreted as a Sichuan restaurant — but owner Bo Li (a Jilin-born, Winnipeg-trained sushi chef) would rather you didn’t order the roasted Chong Qing fish. Start with whatever lightly cooked seafood is fresh that day (ginger scallops are always a nice option). Order some Xinjiang-style skewers (fatty beef is my favourite). Save room for the Yunnan-style sour cabbage hotpot in silky pork broth with a choice of fish.
You could say hotpot is the national dish of China, where more than half a million restaurants specialize in this beloved regionally nuanced version of European fondue. At last count, there were 35 hotpot restaurants in Richmond. Most, like Dolar Shop, are chains. Few are as exacting about using premium ingredients. Try the signature silver soup, which is based on pork maw (the pig’s stomach lining), with hand-carved beef and thinly sliced geoduck.
Go off the beaten track for this Shanghainese diner, owned by an amusingly bossy Beijinger chef and her coffee-obsessed daughter, for excellent thin-skinned xiao long bao soup dumplings. The limited-quantity pan-fried pork buns are so popular they have to be ordered ahead. Also recommended: hot and sour soup and the milky pork-broth wonton soup with elegant, slippery-tailed Shanghai dumplings.
Recently glorified in David Chang’s 2019 Netflix TV series, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, this unassuming Hong Kong-style barbecue shop tucked off a car park is every bit as good as ac- tor Seth Rogen claimed in the show. Boulevard’s Alex Chen and Roger Ma use a doctored version of its five-spice sauce for their excellent dry-aged duck. The venue is best known for crispy roasted pork belly and honey-glazed char siu (ask for half fat, half lean), but the supremely succulent soya sauce chicken is also worth trying.
This Northern Chinese Xi’an restaurant specializes in roast lamb, as the name suggests. But the variety of cuts will surprise even the most adventurous of diners. You can safely skip the lamb penis (“dry sautéed ovine genital”), sliced into chewy slivers, and stir-fried with sweet crackers. More traditional options include the Baked Sesame Cake with Mutton with Mustard (a sesame-bun sandwich with sliced lamb) and the signature Roasted Lamb Leg, which must be pre-ordered and is massaged tableside with cumin and chili.