Richmond, just outside of Vancouver, is a North American mecca for Asian eats, especially Chinese food. Spend a day and you can start with dim sum, end with night market fare, and feast proudly on noodle soup and fried chicken during the hours in between. Here's a guide to the best bites Richmond has to offer.
Dim sum seems like the right place to start in Richmond. Har Gau (steamed shrimp dumplings) are my test to determine dim sum quality at any Chinese restaurant, and I've tasted har gau at about a dozen spots in Richmond. To this day, my favorite is at Shiang Garden ($5.35, with all dim sum discounted 20% before 11am). The wrapper is delicate, holding shrimp with just the right snap and sweetness. It's worth a stop at Shiang Garden just for a basket of these dumplings, pictured above—and if I'm sampling around Richmond, sometimes that's all I'll get before moving on to the next stop.
In contrast to the opulence of dim sum parlors like Shiang Garden (which boasts crystal chandeliers and pink tablecloths), Golden Paramount goes for a more casual décor. Here the emphasis is completely on the food, and particularly on the excellent dim sum. I was impressed with a plate of stir-fried sticky rice, but in more traditional form, I also enjoyed a basket of Steamed Dumplings with Crab Meat and Meat (actually crab meat with pork and vegetables, $4.88). If this is part of your order (it's rare to find dim sum carts in Richmond!), I'm told it always comes to the table first to show off the freshness of the crab and the delicateness of the dumpling.
There are several worthy contenders for best Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) in Richmond, but my pick goes to Shanghai River ($7.50 for 8 pork dumplings). The xiao long bao at Shanghai Morning get my nod for the juiciest, but the quality of the broth and pork at Shanghai River is better, and the wrappers are more delicate. Plus, you can enjoy the dumpling-making in the giant window to the kitchen.
For this Seattleite, the trip to Richmond is worth it not only for superior dim sum and soup dumplings, but also for ramen that far surpasses what's served in my city—the bowls here are on par with my favorites in Tokyo. In Richmond you'll find my favorite ramen-maker in North America: G-men Ramen, inside Nan Chuu Izakaya. Tonkotsu offerings come in the evening, as the broth takes 10 hours to cook, but my preference is the Shoyu Ramen ($8.75) served at lunchtime. The broth is strong with chicken and soy sauce flavor, and comes with thin, fatty pork slices, along with nori, green onions, fish cake, simmered bamboo, bean sprouts, a strip of yuzu rind, and a perfectly cooked, brilliantly orange egg.
Looking for a different kind of noodle soup? Beef noodle soup is a big deal in Taiwan, with a national competition held annually to determine the best. Chef Hung Ching-Lung is a three-time winner, and his Champion Beef Shank with Noodle in Spicy Soup ($10.95) is my favorite at Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle. Chunks of beef shank and a slice of beef "bacon" come in the beefy broth, along with bok choy, green onions, and your choice of noodles, along with a side of pickled cabbage that you can add as desired.
For a treat far better than you'll find at KFC, try the Deep Fried Chicken Legs ($5.75) at Liu's Taiwanese Restaurant. The drumsticks are butterflied, then deep-fried and coated with a slightly sweet sauce. Some fried chicken is crispy, but Liu's is actually crunchy, with juicy meat inside. You can get the legs in combination with veggies and rice topped with ground pork, or with noodle soup, but the appetizer plate of three is ideal smaller appetites.
HK BBQ Master may be hidden on the side of a Canadian Tire store, but meat lovers have no problem locating it. Your problem will be deciding what to order. The BBQ pork is slightly sweet and simply delicious, as is the BBQ duck, which tends to sell out early. My choice, though, was 2 Items on Rice ($8.00) that included Soya Sauce Chicken and Roasted Pork. The slices of chicken are incredibly moist, with the earthy, sweet taste of soy sauce shining through, and the pork boasts three delicious layers: the meat close to the bone, a layer of succulent fat, and finally an irresistibly crisp and crackly fried skin.
Richmond is full of bubble tea options. With all the good eating available, you may not need the extra calories from tapioca balls, but the temptation was too much for me after seeing so many young people carrying around cups with colorful straws. I asked around, and the unanimous pick for the best was Bubble Queen, which draws high marks for its use of notable sweets like Ghiradelli, Ferrero Rocher, and Maltesers. These all tapped into my love of chocolate, but the massive amounts of mango in the store made me choose a Mango Slush ($6.75) instead. The price seems steep, but it comes with a generous amount of mango chunks at the top of the cup (you'll need a spoon to scoop them all out) and black tapioca pearls at the bottom.
Richmond is home to not one, but two night markets. I've enjoyed the International Summer Night Market in the past, so this time I chose a first visit to the Richmond Night Market. In terms of commercial products, you can almost call this the Cell Phone Cover Market (who buys all those covers?), but the food products are far more diversified. There's takoyaki, Chinese dumplings, foie gras on toast, and the ever-popular Rotato—swirls of deep-fried, flavored potatoes on a skewer that everyone seems to buy. But as I've done during my past visits to Taiwan, I followed my nose to the Stinky Tofu ($6.50) vendor. (This turned out to be Sunway, a restaurant I've enjoyed in Richmond in the past.) While not stinky enough for my taste, the tofu has that fermented flavor that I enjoy, topped with green onion, cilantro, Taiwanese pickled cabbage (I'd prefer kimchi for more fermented fun), and an optional squirt of Sriracha.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.