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MAR/APR 2021, OUR 25TH YEAR
 
 
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EAT STREET IN RICHMOND, BRITISH COLUMBIA
 
 
Story and photos by Yvette Cardozo
 
     
  Richmond, BC prawns   Dim sum  
 
Fresh dockside prawns for sale in Steveston, an historic fishing village south of Vancouver, BC, Canada
 
Dim sum "little bites" dishes served at Fisherman's Terrace Seafood Restaurant in Richmond, BC.
 

It's called, simply, "Eat Street."

That, at least, is how locals refer to the stretch in Richmond, BC, along Alexandra Road that is end-to-end mouthwatering authentic Asian food. You could eat every day in Richmond and still spend weeks chewing, slurping and sighing with satisfaction without running out of new places to try.

This Vancouver area of British Columbia has long been known for decent Asian food because of its connection to Hong Kong, which was once part of the British Commonwealth. Since Canada is also part of that Commonwealth, when Hong Kong was handed back to China, a flood of Hong Kong's upper elite moved to the place it considered its sister city.

Today, the Vancouver suburb of Richmond is 65 percent Asian. There are Hong Kong style malls, 200+ restaurants, Buddhist temples, a Chinese New Year's Festival that is arguably North America's finest, but it was very low key this year ... there are hopes by next year the festival will return to its normal activities. You can buy wine from a Asian owned winery that has won awards in China and gourmet chocolates made by a Japanese couple with flavors that include wasabi, green tea and sake. At times, you are almost startled if a shopkeeper responds to you in English. It is, one local only half joked, a trip to Asia minus the jetlag.

  Richmond, BC Aberdeen Centre   Central atrium in Aberdeen Centre, a shopping mall in Richmond, BC, Canada with a strong Asian focus. The centerpiece is a large fountain with dancing waters sychronized to music and colored lights. Richmond has an international district known as the Golden Village, popular for its Asian food and shops.  

When you are in the middle of it, you'd think all of Richmond is Asian but, actually, the Asian core, known as the Golden Village, is hardly more than four or five blocks long and wide. And don't expect some kind of grand entrance ... say, a gateway or banner or Chinese lanterns. This area was never intended to be an Asian district. It just happened.

So now you are here. And bewildered. And looking for direction.

Start with dim sum.

"Dim sum" translates to "little bites" but also "touch the heart." Either way, it means yum.

Dim sum, in the olden days, was a mid morning meal served by rich ladies who had the time and resources to do an assortment of dishes, each of which is a production by itself.

Today, it's customarily eaten for brunch in a restaurant. So a restaurant that might be known for its dinner may also be popular separately for its dim sum.

  Richmond, BC barbequed duck   Richmond, BC man savoring chicken feet  
 
Barbecue duck for sale
 
Savoring chicken feet
 

We headed for a local favorite, Fisherman's Terrace Seafood Restaurant in Aberdeen Centre. And we saw immediately why this is not done so much at home anymore. There are 75 items to choose from, ranging from simple pork-filled dumplings to chicken feet.

Prawn dumplings are not only a great starter, they are a classic and a test of how good your chef is. Each tiny bite is surrounded by a pleated wheat starch skin thin enough to be translucent but strong enough to not break when you pick it up with your chopsticks. Folding those pleats takes intricate finger work and shows the chef's skill with his hands. The dumpling should have a nice chew but not be tough.

Whew. And that's only one dish.

Oh, and the chicken feet. That is an acquired taste. The skin is soft, almost gelatinous and the feet taste like, well, whatever spice has been used, which in this case was mostly the star anise from five spice.

On, then, to the rest of the shopping center, one of three huge centers within walking distance of each other in the Golden Village. This is not your neighborhood mall. It sounds, looks and feels like you've stepped into somewhere in Hong Kong. It's brighter, noisier, flashier than home. There's a LOT of gold jewelry, gold plated good luck statues and Hello Kitty stuff.

Um, yes, and the food court is not filled with burger stands and fried chicken. Rather, it's Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Thai. It's dim sum and noodles and soups.

  Frappe, a very popular Asian summer dish featuring flavored shaved ice with fruit and often a scoop of ice cream. This is green tea ice with mango and strawberries along with mango ice cream.   Richmond, BC frappe  

And frappe. You have GOT to try frappe.

This isn't shave ice or a slushie. It's ice flavored with green tea or fruit that has been shredded into delicate slivers and topped with fresh fruit, red beans, taro and more. It's so light, it just dissolves on your tongue almost without substance. Alone, it's a great palette cleanser, and topped with ice cream, a killer dessert.

You could chew your way through the shopping centers (and the supermarkets which sell everything from dim sum to sushi) and never walk into a restaurant. But of course, you should definitely do some sit down dinners.

  Richmond, BC Saboten Fast Food   Richmond, BC Cantonese fondue  
 
Woman orders breaded Japanese pork cutlet served by Saboten, a popular fast food franchise.
 
Cantonese style fondue where meats, chicken and fish are cooked in hot broth.

 

You really need to be adventurous when diving into blood sausage or a boiling pot of pork back bones. But for the more timid, there's bee bim bahb, which is cooked vegetables and beef served over rice with a fried egg on top.

Our other restaurant adventure was Clay Pot Hot Pot, which by day does dim sum and custom served tea (you choose and steep it yourself in a "gai wan" cup with ceramic lid, then sip while holding the cup and lid together so you don't swallow the leaves). For dinner, it's "hot pot," which is like meat fondue. Assorted broths (pepper, pork, chicken, herbal) come out with raw meats (beef, lamb, chicken, fish, blood cubes, skins) and you have at it. It's not only a great communal experience (picture flying chopsticks) but it's very tasty.

And, finally, there was our ceremonial gorging at Richmond's night market. There are actually two of these held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. We went to the biggest, known simply as Richmond Night Market. (Editor's note: The Richmond Night Market closed for the pandemic in 2020 but hopes to open again in 2021. Check their website for updates: https://richmondnightmarket.com/)

  Richmond, BC   Richmond, BC "rotato"  
 
Cook grills assorted meats (beef, lamb and chicken) along with shrimp at Richmond Night Market

 
"Rotato," breaded, flavored and deep fried potatoes sliced into connected disks and served on a skewer stick.
 

This night market is county fair on steroids, with 200 trinket booths and 88 food booths. The trinkets run along the lines of Hello Kitty dolls, cell phone cases, jewelry and t-shirts. There's also entertainment, but it's the food everyone actually comes for.

But it's not where you go if crowds and noise make you nervous. It's tight, it's close, it's hot. It's also exciting and quite the rush. And oh, so tasty.

Sacrificial lambs that we are, we munched our way through half a dozen booths, starting with 'rotato.' This is potatoes cut on a machine into connected disks that are skewered on a stick, coated, fried and spiced. Ten spices to be exact. It's a meal by itself and very popular with the Korean crowd.

  Woman eating a fried fish ball  
Lulu Island Winery
 
 
Eating a fried fish ball


 
Lulu Island Winery offers tours in single "bubbles" of 3-4 people. https://luluislandwinery.com/
 

From here, we nibbled Hong Kong style curry fish balls (soft, heavy on the curry), Japanese bakudanyaki, which is this huge dumpling stuffed with squid, shrimp and veggies. Then the lobster stand where we had to try abalone, and where the lobsters were surprisingly not overcooked. Then more Japanese for buckwheat noodles topped with, among other things, a teensy baby octopus.

Skipping the squid and many other unidentifiable goodies, we landed at the dragon's beard candy booth where the stuff was being made on the spot. It's sugar spun into microscopically fine threads, then filled with a sesame/peanut mix. It comes off in taste as a cross between cotton candy and Middle Eastern halvah.

At a drink booth, we also found mango bubble tea ... frankly one of the best we've ever tasted. Again, this is saying a lot since they make it in bulk to serve a clamoring thirsty horde.

From here, we were supposed to try Fly Zone, one of those vertical wind tunnels that simulate parachute jumping. But, ah, with all that food in our bellies, we just went shopping.

  Woman eating abalone  
Soba at Richmond Night Market
 
 
Dining on abalone in the Richmond Night Market

 
Soba Japanese buckwheat noodles topped with assorted vegetables and fish served at Richmond Night Market. This one is topped with a tiny octopus.
 

INFO

Richmond's Aberdeen Station, the center of the Asian district, is nine stops from the Vancouver City Centre stop on the Skytrain's Canada line. The "Golden Village" is fairly small, only four or five blocks across. There are some two dozen hotels in all of Richmond including several in the Asian district.

CONTACTS

Richmond - https://www.visitrichmondbc.com/

Aberdeen Centre - https://www.aberdeencentre.com/en/home.php

Night Market - https://richmondnightmarket.com/

Fisherman's Terrace Seafood Restaurant - Aberdeen Centre - https://www.fishermansterrace.com/

Clay Pot Hot Pot - 604-284-5181