Story by Adrian Brijbassi
RICHMOND, BRITISH COLUMBIA — When I lived in New York, I would get a hunger for “soupy buns” — the term my friend who introduced me to the dish used to describe the delicate dumpling pockets that hold nourishing broth and balls of ground pork, chicken or lump, delicious crab meat. To satiate the craving, I would go to Joe’s Shanghai, a massive Manhattan eatery, which is now a chain, that my friend from Hong Kong vouched for.
Since I moved back to Canada in 2005, I haven’t tried anything close to those
At Suhang, a waitress popped open the bamboo cover on the Shanghai dumplings that I had desired for so long. The dumplings, whose real name is xiaolongbao, were every bit as good as what I remember from Joe’s Shanghai and made all the more tasty because this serving had more of them and they were dollars cheaper.
Suhang is a wonderful spot. I dined there during a Chinese New Year celebration and as the lazy Susan that was set in the centre of the table twirled to introduce one dish after another to my palate, my head spun with amazement. The dumplings were followed by a marvel properly named 8-Treasure Duck. The duck is deboned and presented to the table spread with its appendages apart and its belly stuffed with dates, ginkgo nuts and sticky rice seasoned with Asian flavours. It’s a dish that is made in honour of Chinese New Year. The eight main ingredients crammed inside the duck are intended to symbolize the fortune bound to pour forth and into the hands of those dining at the table. (In Chinese culture, 8 is one of the luckiest of numbers.) The restaurant is more upscale than others in the area, with white tablecloth and well-dressed servers, but it’s not Hawksworth.
Named after a region of China that includes the city of Hangzhou, Suhang (8291 Ackroyd Road #100, Richmond; 604-278-7787; no website) is one of the lovely places in Richmond’s Golden Village, the core of this suburb of 200,000 people. According to the South China Morning Post, Richmond is “probably the first majority-Chinese city outside of Asia.” From mainland China, 137,245 people arrived in Richmond between 1996-2006. That followed a massive wave of migration from Hong Kong, whose citizens were wary of the ramifications the 1997 handover from British rule to China would have on their lives and their finances.
Taste Richmond’s Sensational Chinese Food
The Asian population in Richmond has created as unique a culinary destination as you’ll find in any North American suburb. Take Alexandra Road, nicknamed Food Street. It has more than 200 restaurants — yes, 200 — in a three-block stretch of unassuming asphalt and short buildings.
And not a Subway or McDonald’s among them.
These are independently owned businesses serving flavours from across Asia, including Thai, Malayasian, Vietnamese and the three main gastronomic categories of Chinese food: Sichuan, Cantonese and Shanghainese. There’s also Hunan and Northern Chinese fare.
“We appreciate having so many cuisines right in our nation and in our area,” says Joseph Jiang, a sous chef at Jade Chinese Seafood Restaurant (8511 Alexandra Road, Richmond; 604-249-0082). It is one of the most popular restaurants on Food Street and likely its most elegant. Hong Kong-born Tony Luk, a designated Chinese master chef, oversees the kitchen and has brought his recipes to Canada with him. “These are old, traditional Cantonese recipes,” Jiang notes. “They are very rare and authentic to Hong Kong.”
Food Street is a destination in itself. As is the annual Richmond Night Market, which sees more than 15,000 visitors each year. It runs on weekends from May 16 to October 13, 2014. The admission is $2 and once you’re within the giant tent, you’ll be able to eat your way to satisfaction, with most vendors charging less than $10 for their items.
At Golden Paramount (8071 Park Road, Richmond; 604-278-0873; no website), Mandarin and Cantonese speakers pack into the tight-fitting tables. The Cantonese dishes include tasty soups, dumplings and egg tarts. For four people, the bill came up to $40, which was for several dim sum pieces shared among us.
To be honest, I didn’t think you could dine this well for this cheap in Canada. These were satisfying portions of fresh, tasty foods carefully crafted from family recipes.
“Chinese restaurants in the area have always had good food but more recently it’s been about bringing in some of the western ways of improving the presentation,” says Victor Loo, manager of Dynasty Seafood (777 W Broadway #108, Vancouver; 604-876-8388), a restaurant that’s in Vancouver’s South Granville area and which is a perennial winner at the Chinese Restaurant Awards held each April in British Columbia’s largest city. It took home two prizes for signature dishes on Tuesday when the sixth annual awards were held at Vancouver’s Four Seasons Hotel. “The presentation of the dishes is getting better and better.”
Yiu Tong Leung agreed. He is the 70-year-old owner and chef of Hoi Tong Chinese Seafood Restaurant, a Richmond favourite that ranked 81st in the 2013 Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada Guide. Tong’s Alaskan King Crab Served Three Ways was a Chinese Restaurant Award winner this year and he says it is visual appeal that helps to differentiate his food.
“My cuisine is similar to other kinds of dishes in other restaurants, but the way it is created is different. The way it is presented is very different than what others are doing,” he told me through an interpreter.
A Cantonese restaurant, Hoi Tong (8191 Westminster Highway, Richmond; 604-276-9229; no website) has operated for five years, serving dishes that originated during the owner’s time cooking in Hong Kong’s Exchange Square.
That eastern influence is everywhere in Greater Vancouver. It makes it easy to take a suburb like Richmond — which doesn’t have nearly as much pull as downtown Vancouver — for granted as people believe great Asian food is all around them. Once here, though, you’ll notice the difference — in the quality, the quantity and the price — and you’ll make a point of returning.
Not unlike the Suhang duck, Richmond seems to have treasures that keep on pouring out in front of your hands and mouth.
MORE ABOUT THE RICHMOND NIGHT MARKET
Dates: May 16 to October 13, 2014 (weekends)
Location: 8351 River Rd, Richmond, BC
Directions: Take the Canada Line light rail to the Bridgeport Station and walk the one kilometre to the entrance. The fare on the Canada Line can vary but from downtown Vancouver you will likely pay between $2.75-$6 for a one-way ride.
Cost: Admission is $2. Vendors charge $2 to $10 for most dishes. Carry cash as well as credit and debit cards as some vendors won’t accept anything but coins and bills.