Greater Vancouver chinese food tour
Life has taken us to Vancouver many times, but we've never had a chance to explore Richmond's famous Chinese food scene. So we decided to use some of our vacation days for a trip to Vancouver for a short, but jam-packed, food tour.
We spent quite a bit of time researching online and landed on a list of over sixty (that's right - six zero!) Asian (primarily Chinese) restaurants that came highly recommended in the Greater Vancouver Area. From a city that boasts more than eight hundred (yup, that's eight with two zeros!) Chinese restaurants, that's a pretty comprehensive list.
We've compiled all sixty restaurants on Google Maps to help anyone in visiting plan their own foodie adventure:
Culinary Slut's Chinese Food Tour of Vancouver & Richmond
We chose to stay at Hilton Vancouver Airport. It's perfectly located to allow access to many of the restaurants on our list on foot - which is our favourite way of exploring cities in any case. Its location also allowed for a long, leisurely walk to the Richmond Night Market. (see below) Conveniently, our room had a microwave and an empty mini-fridge so we could enjoy leftovers (especially dumplings for breakfast!); the hotel also has the benefit of being located close to beautiful Minoru Park.
Some Useful Tips:
Many of the Chinese restaurants in Richmond are cash only (or allow only the use of a debit card).
3.7 - 3.9 Is A High Rating on Google Ratings
While in cities like New York or Toronto a user rating of 3.7 with over 100 votes might make us hesitate, that is not true of Vancouver and Richmond's food scene. The people casting the votes are pretty discerning. (maybe even a little bit harsh) Only on rare occasions did we find restaurants that managed to touch a 4-star rating. In these circumstances a rating of 3.7 - 3.9 is solid and you can count on the food being delicious.
Many Places Close for Turnover in the Afternoon
You'll see a lot of restaurant closures from 3 - 5pm. Make sure to check the hours of an establishment before rushing out to satisfy that sudden dumpling craving. And you will have sudden dumpling cravings. That's a thing.
The Richmond Night Market
Arrive early; the line up to enter is huge and if they reach capacity you may not be allowed in. Consider the $28 (per person) VIP pass which gets you in much faster and allows for multiple entries. We just used one entry and then gifted our card to a lovely member of the hotel staff. You can always just hand it to a stranger as you leave the Night Market as a random act of kindness. We recommend that you don't drive or take a cab to the Market. Traffic to and from is absolutely insane; walk (or take the SkyTrain to the River Rock Casino and take the short walk from there). There's lots of signage so it's pretty easy to find and as pedestrians we just had to follow the obvious flow of other humans going our way.
Breakfast and Snacks: For the most part, our breakfasts were comprised of leftover dumplings gently reheated in a microwave and consumed in the comfort of our hotel bed. We also hit Chinese bakeries for savoury pastries, paired with some fruit from the Richmond Mall Farmer's Market and enjoyed amidst the beautiful setting of Minoru Park.
Kin's Farm Market is located at the Richmond Centre Mall, but can only be accessed from the parking lot. You'll see it located right beside the Cobs Bakery. Their produce is of exceptional quality, including both local and imported fruits and vegetables. We stocked up on fantastic mandarin oranges, ripe strawberries and some of the best apricots we've ever had. Then we headed inside the mall and picked up some delicious fare from Maxim's Bakery. There's a great selection of sweet and savoury choices. For breakfast, we picked up tasty savouries like their Tuna Danish, Dried Shredded Pork Bun, and BBQ Pork Roll. We also picked up a Japanese-Style Cheesecake to enjoy in the room during the 3-5pm "lull" in our feeding frenzy.
If you want to explore up Richmond Road, Kam Do Bakery had a great selection of pastries with flavours like Walnut, Lotus seed, Date, Taro, and Pineapple pastry. We tended to focus on their buns with choices including Pineapple Buns With Coconut, Deep Fried Bean Buns, Garlic Ham Buns, and Taro buns. For breakfast, we picked up Curry Beef Buns and Pineapple Pork Buns. They also had a unique series of pastries that included Salted Egg. We gave the Date with Egg Yolk Pastry a try - it was sweet and earthy, with a paste-like yolk in the center. Definitely one of the most unique foods we've tried; it was so unusual to us we couldn't decide whether we liked it or not - and that sort of thing really works for us! This is a great bakery to visit if you want to try something new to push your taste horizons.
As mentioned already, but worthy of repetition, we tended to take our breakfast pastries over to Minoru Park. This beautiful green space has a pond where Red-Winged Blackbirds nest, filling the air with their beautiful song. Ravens can be seen bathing in the waters, families of Canadian Geese rest in the sunlight and a chorus of unseen songbirds plays in the background. There are a good number of benches where you can sit amongst the flowers and enjoy the peaceful beauty. Past the dense greenery there's an open field where people can be seen enjoying some casual sports, as well as a high quality running track where we burnt off a few calories. (just enough to justify another day of indulgence!) You may find that the crinkling wrappers of your baked goods draw the attention of some critters. It didn't take long for an adorable grey squirrel to sidle up to us doing his best to execute all the gestures that have melted the hearts of many a homo sapien before us. He was soon followed by a family of geese also hoping we'd share our meal with them.
If you're finding the bakeries delicious then consider dropping by iTofu for a different kind of sweet. We have often found Asian desserts are as focused as much on texture as they are on flavour; iTofu's creations are no exception. The delicate, silky tofu provides the pudding base, accented with toppings like coconut jelly, mango, and tapioca balls flavoured like black sesame. If you want something more exotic, consider the grass jelly or taro balls. You can adjust the sweetness of the dessert with ginger syrup, simple syrup or cane sugar.
Instinct might lead most people to focus on restaurants, but we always find grocery stores and markets an enjoyable part of any food tour. Price Mart Foods was another outpost for some tasty baked goods to enjoy in our room during the mid-day "recovery". The sweet options include things like Taiwan Style Pineapple Buns, Double Chocolate Buns, Milky Cheese Buns, and Butter Cream Buns with Almonds. T&T is a world all its own, with a spectacular seafood section and the most epic noodle aisle we've ever seen. The dried goods aisles are especially interesting, with all kinds of items that don't make the shelves smaller Asian markets. There were also a variety of options for pre-made meals, including the choice to buy fresh seafood in-store and then have someone cook it for you on the spot.
In our search for tasty dumplings, Chef Tony's kept coming up again and again. It is set up in what we understand to be classic Hong Kong style, with a spacious room and big round tables, most of which were occupied by multi-generational families. While they offer some dim sum classics like Pork Belly In Steam Buns, there are also some unique treats on offer. The Black Truffle Pork and Shrimp Steamed Dumpling was a luxurious mouthful, while the Cuttlefish Ink Har Gaw made for a highly Instagram-able delight! While we have seen variations of Chive and Chinese Doughnut Rice Noodles With Diced Pork at many dim sum restaurants this was our first time trying it! The sumptuous silky rice noodle against the crunchy doughnut made for exquisite texture contrast.
One would be hard-pressed to find a dumpling lover that didn't hold a special place in their heart for Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). These little pockets of sheer delight literally explode with flavour, releasing rich, reduced broth over your tongue. They're notoriously time-consuming to make, so any restaurant that does a good job of them instantly attracts a loyal following. Our first taste of Xiao Long Bao on this trip was at Dinesty Dumpling House. While it's called a "Dumpling House", only a small part of the menu is dedicated to this delicacy, and most were sold out by the time we arrived. So we gave the XO sauce and pork soup a try. XO sauce is a much-loved flavour originating in Hong Kong, made of dried seafood (usually shrimp and scallops), accented with shallots, garlic, chili. Then we just had to explore the rest of the menu and ordered the Camphor & Tea Smoked Duck, a slightly smokey and very salty dish served with steamed buns. They also had a favourite of ours on offer: braised tea tree mushrooms. In this case, they were served with bamboo shoots, combining two things we love for their unique texture and flavour.
Rumours reached us that the best Xiao Long Bao in the area was actually in a mall food court. Our curiosity was instantly piqued. We made our way to Lansdowne Centre and sure enough there was R&H with a small crowd of people patiently waiting for their order of dumplings. The skin was soft and chewy, thick enough to make the dumplings easy to pick up, but not so much that the broth was overwhelmed. What a lovely and unexpected find this was for two people who generally do their best to avoid mall food courts at all costs!
The best dumplings on our trip were actually an accidental discovery. We had been wandering Alexandria Road in search of an elusive restaurant. After giving up, we decided to stop into Chengdu. It's impossible to put our finger on exactly why we chose this spot, but our instincts insisted it would be a good choice. We knew a gem had been stumbled upon when an amuse-bouche of raw cabbage in flavourful oil turned out to be off the charts delicious and was quickly devoured. The incredible dumplings were quite simple: silky wontons served in a richly flavoured chili oil bath. Equally amazing were the dan dan noodles: minced pork and ground pork and sui mi ya cai (a preserved vegetable mix) in the very same flavourful oil.
A Taste of Taiwan:
Memory Corner was voted Best Taiwanese restaurant in Canada by Asian Star TV - prevailing against 375 competitors after an extensive evaluation by food experts and reviews of media comments and online ratings. This restaurant is so adored that it literally inspires love letters. The story of this restaurant begins in 1975, when the owner opened a traditional Taiwanese lamb restaurant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It has been handed down for three generations. The first thing that caught our eye was the lamb belly, which came served with copious amounts of ginger, a very tasty way to cut the fat. Next, we ordered Taiwan's famous comfort food: minced meat and rice. This dish is a braised ground beef coated in a well-spiced and slightly earthy sauce and served with a marinated egg. We ordered the pork blood cakes out of sheer curiosity. These cakes are far more about the soft, dense texture than flavour as most of the taste came from the sauce. While delicious, they are extraordinarily filling - definitely a sharing plate with friends.
Memory Corner proved to be one of the most memorable restaurants of our whole trip. We've eaten a very wide range of food in our culinary adventures, and it's not very often that we run into a meal as new to us as this one was.
HK BBQ Master:
Growing up in Toronto, there are always lots of Chinese BBQ options. Chinatown is known for the ducks hanging in the window, awaiting hungry diners' orders. We thought we'd had good BBQ before . . .
. . . then we found HK BBQ Master, and our world changed! This is a busy spot with people lined up out the door during peak hours (for reasons that would become obvious) with droves of people wanting on either takeout or a table. It's meant to be a quick turn-over, made obvious by the cheque showing up only a few bites into our dish. (though to be clear we never felt rushed) The menu is simple, offering three kinds of meat: pork; chicken; and, duck. We ordered the pork and chicken, but clearly the waitress felt we were making a mistake and brought us a plate with all three. The meats were outrageously tender and juicy; the chicken, in particular, blew our minds. (and our palates!) We made an excellent decision in choosing to share one plate between the two of us; the meats are fatty and rich, with generous portions and loads of rice; had we ordered a plate each we would have had to be carted from the place in a wheelbarrow!
Richmond Night Market:
Being named the Number One Night Market in North America by no less an august publication as the New York Times is no mean feat ; but to be clear, and to manage expectations, if you've been to night markets in Asia, Richmond's iteration is not nearly as sprawling and diverse as those found in Hong Kong or Bangkok. That said, it's still loads of fun and worth a visit (at least once).
A few pointers might help you enjoy the experience a bit more than going in "cold".
First, while getting there early is recommended, be prepared to hang out for a good long while to really get the full experience. The place really comes alive after dark. It is, after all, a night market.
Second, if you're not a fan of crowds don't go. It's crowded; you will be jostled by other people, in some areas (especially near the more popular food stalls) you will be in close physical contact with other humans constantly. It's not a great place to bring shy pets or sensitive children.
Third, bring lots (and lots) of cash. No matter how disciplined you think you're going to be you'll spend more than you expect - and that's all to the good. This place is loads of fun and if (like us) you're likely to only do it once you may as well do it right!
Now, to some more general observations/tips.
The first part of the market is made up of a few stalls for non-food shoppers - clothing accessories, jewelry, toys and a lot of truly random stuff. Initially, we completely ignored this part of the market and headed straight for the food. Once we had our fill, we had to digest a bit before going in for Round Two. This is when we actually took some time to visit the various retail vendors, and were quite pleasantly surprised. Aside from some spectacular kitsch, we managed to pick up two lovely winter scarves at an incredible price. It's well worth doing some treasure hunting in this part of the market.
There's also a little area with kid's activities that seemed to delight all the little ones. And there are a number of carnival games "giving away" over-sized stuffed animals themed from Asian TV.
Now onto the part you're waiting for - the food.
The food offerings are diverse - both in cuisine and in quality. There are some truly unique and delicious options that we still remember and crave. It's worth noting that the Night Market has been an incubator for more mainstream offerings for some time (the previously mentioned iTofu got their start here), so be prepared to be dazzled by some of the food on offer.
That said, some of the food stalls serve up what we'll call Instagram-worthy dishes that photograph well (or even spectacularly), but in all honesty aren't something to write home about on the flavour and/or quality front. If you take a moment to step back and look around, you'll see that many people come to participate in a social media orgy. Don't take this the wrong way; the dishes aren't bad (we didn't have one thing we disliked); many just aren't great. But they're fun, and in the atmosphere of the Market that's really all you need.
The Line Up For People Who Purchased a VIP pass. The Regular Line Is Much Longer.
Our favourite treat at the market were nori tacos. Nori sheets are lightly coated in tempura batter and fried into a shell. They're then filled with a rice base and a topping of choice. We chose spicy salmon and tempura spam. How were they? We wish they'd open a national chain! On the non-Asian front, it was the Afghani manu that stole our hearts. These dumplings come with a lentil sauce, yogurt sauce, and a slightly spicy sauce. We gave two very popular items a go - grilled squid and fish on a stick. Both good, but see above for our comment about Instagram worthiness outweighing overall food quality. There were many, many sweet treat options, making it hard to choose. But once our eyes settled on the banana fritters in coconut sauce, there was no need to look any further. The food fun doesn't need to stop when you're full. It's loads of fun seeing what people eat as they wander the market, and watching food being prepared is a delight unto itself. Watching ice cream rolls being made was one of the most memorable parts of the trip: a customer's fruit selection gets mashed and mixed with cream, which is then poured onto a cold griddle. This process is quite similar to how crepes are made - except with completely reversed temperatures at work! The ice cream is then drizzled with a choice of sauce, like caramel or chocolate, and scraped off the plate to form a roll. Check out our photo gallery for a short video.