The city of Richmond in British Columbia is one of Canada’s most amazing food cities with an exciting and intriguing Asian culture. Downtown there are approximately 800 restaurants and more than half are Asian – so where does one start if you are hungry? Literally you start by putting one foot in front of the other – then try to organize your options.
On a recent trip to Richmond, I started with Chinese cuisine – only Chinese cuisine. Richmond depends on China, it’s people and economy so it made sense to start with its cuisine. It’s often said that Richmond has better Chinese cuisine than anywhere in China. While I don’t know if that’s true, I do know I had never experienced food as elegant, flavourful or playful on the palate than I had in the Chinese restaurants found in Richmond.
Richmond is not an “expense account” town, so there are not really any high-end restaurants. You’re not likely to find any $50 a plate dim sum on any menus. Instead, Richmond is a real family town and everyone knows everyone. The restaurants are highly competitive and their edge won’t be found on any fancy marketing gimmicks or beautiful décor. Their edge comes in the quality of food they serve. Chinese people are very demanding when it comes to the food they eat and in this town, word of mouth reigns supreme.
To help me through my journey is Lee Man, a passionate foodie, Chinese cuisine specialist and regular contributor on Asian cuisine to Vancouver Magazine. Lee is a champion of Chinese cuisine and I’m going to guess, has dined at every Chinese restaurants in the city.
Lee talks quickly, in between mouthfuls of luscious food. He explains that Chinese cuisine is local food. Most of the food is sourced locally for the community and served fresh with little fuss. Cantonese cuisine is not typically spicy but Szechwan is. Vinegar based hot Szechwan dishes open up the palate for more heat but goes away quickly. On the other hand, oil based hot Szechwan dishes hold the heat longer and numbs the palate. Either way, don’t be fooled by water based Szechwan dishes, they’re crazy hot because of the peppers, especially the Szechwan peppercorns that are deadly spicy then turn caressingly fragrant.
He helps me serve myself seconds. It appears double-dipping can be avoided by using the opposite end of your chopsticks – personally I think they should just offer up serving spoons – but then, this is Richmond – the Chinatown of Canada and here I am, I’m doing the best I can.
Lee explains to pick a good restaurant look for the small ones where the curtains are drawn and blinds pulled down. Go inside, it will be a simple, place designed for comfort. The attention to detail is found in the incredible food in thee small places.
Just when I thought I was beginning to master the art of Chinese cuisine I realized I have much more to learn. As I went from restaurant to restaurant, I would pick up a card and/or take out menu. All part of my research and ensuring correct information is documented. But here I am back in Niagara and I’m rummaging through all of the material I’ve collected on my memorable food trip and realize I have an awful lot of massage parlour business cards and not many from restaurants. Now I know if I need a good massage parlour, all you have to do is look in restaurants for the ones they recommend. As for the accuracy of the restaurant names – well, don’t hold it against me if I’m wrong.
Here are a few of the restaurants we shared a great meal in – you just have to go!
Unless otherwise stated, all of the restaurants are within the Golden Village. This could be considered the centre of Richmond consisting of a few blocks from Alderbridge Way to Cambie Road and Number 3 Road and Garden City Road. Within this small radius there are literally hundreds of delicious Asian restaurants.
Golden Springs Szechwan Restaurant
The Poached Chicken with Spicy Sauce was dynamic on the palate with soft, sweet chicken breast succumbing to a clean, peppery and firely red sauce – yum! Pan Fried Vermicelli with Preserved Pork. The Asian name of this dish translates to ants climbing up a tree. It looks like clear, brown vermicelli noodles dotted with tiny bits of brown things (obviously the preserved pork); elegant and robust in flavour. If you closed your eyes and ate the Smoked Meat with Bamboo Shoots (from Hu Nam) you’d think someone spilled the Western smoky bacon in the otherwise fresh tasting Eastern dish. These were real fun and intriguing East meets West flavours. While I didn’t get much hot on the Hot and Sour Sliced Potatoes, they were amazing in that they were thin strands of potatoes cooked firm! The texture a real mystery, the flavour really satisfying – not a typical potato dish by Western standards but really good!
HK BBQ Master
Park in the Superstore parking lot on No 3 Road and you’ll find KK BBQ Master under the superstore. This is the best barbecue pork and duck in all of Richmond! The honey BBQ pork ($8.00) or Chai Siu is super sweet and crispy. Best to eat the ends that are burnt for a real caramelized crunch. The Chinese crispy pork belly us uber succulent and increadibly melt-in-your-mouth delic!
Michigan Noodle House
The owners here were partners in Max’s Noodle House until one day they had a feud. No one wanted to give up the popular name “Max’s” so the Michigan Noodle House was started by the divorcing partner. Typical Hong Kong cuisine, we had the Ginger and Green Onion Noodles with delicious broth as a chaser. It’s an elegant soup with fresh flavours and noodles that are firm to the bite – yum! This interesting dish, Tawainese Style Tofu Skin is really delicious surrounded with mushrooms and brilliant broccoli. Noodles are very different in a noodle house. The whole point is for them to be al dente and not soft and mushy. The special process is to make them with lye water and wheat. The dough is tough and kneaded by foot by jumping on a bamboo board over the dough. The end result is a textural symphony of firm noodles, succulent meats and soft vegetables together with rich broth – oh, yum! BTW, the Won Ton Soup with dried fish and shrimp in a pork broth is a must-try dish!
Shanghai Morning Restaurant
This was an amazing yet traditional breakfast experience – Hot Soup Buns! These look like typical Dim Sum dumplings but they contain boiling hot soup. You bite a small hole in the top and wait for the soup to cool enough to drink. Then put the entire dumpling in your mouth and finish it off – Oh, kill me now!!! It is sooo good! They also come in a pan fried version. With this you poke a hole in the top with chopsticks and slurp the soup out before devouring the entire bun in one bite! We also shared a Green Onion Pancake and delicious Beef Roll that I would be raving about – they were so good, but I was a little too focused on the soup buns to do them justice! Gotta go back to this place!
While we didn’t have any time or appetite left, Lee did recommend the following restaurants.
Xi Am Cusine for the beef and lamb kabobs, noodle and lamb soup and the pancake rolls with loads of beef inside.
Max’s Noodle House is indisputably the top noodle house in all of Richmond. People have been known to get off a plane and make a bee-line to Max’s Noodle House for a bowl of noodles. It’s simply comfort food.
Tsim Chai Noodles because their noodles just might be better than at Max’s – although a few more bowls of noodles are needed to make a final decision. Also, good congee.
Man Ri Sung Restaurant is a really small restaurant with no more than 14 seats inside. Here Lee likes the duck soup and the way they carve the duck tableside.
Chuan BBQ Restaurant here you can order an entire lamb that feeds from 16 to 20 people and with it, you get to drink as much beer as you like. The tables are covered in plastic, smeared with oily fingerprints and sticky but that’s good dining. You’ll find it across from the Richmond farmers’ market.
Cha Su Restaurant for the very best honey roasted lamb. You have to order it half fat, half lean with a crispy skin.
Hoi Tong Just simply the best Chinese Cantonese restaurant in Richmond