Passengers alighting at Vancouver International Airport land not in the city itself but in the bustling suburb of Richmond, British Columbia—a town filled with the best Chinese food outside (and, some argue, even within) China. Whether a quick bite of old-school pineapple bun (named for the look of the sweet, crunchy topping) at Lido or a multicourse, modern seafood banquet at Chef Tony, Richmond offers variety as wide as China itself, all expertly executed.
At a time when distinct Chinatowns are fading away into little more than memories and facades in North America’s biggest cities—including neighboring Vancouver—Richmond demonstrates a different model.
The town of 230,000 is approximately 65% Asian descent and 60% immigrant, and it serves as a dynamic, growing, and evolving weaving of contemporary Chinese culture and food into today’s Canada. Less than a half-hour from both the U.S. border and downtown Vancouver, Richmond serves as a destination for visitors looking to taste, shop, and play in a uniquely Chinese-Canadian fashion.
Crowds pack Richmond’s night market on weekends throughout the summer, buying up the latest trendy foods, electronics, jewelry, and even socks. Outside the bazaar’s limited hours, shoppers can find high-end boutiques and dollar stores hawking art, tableware, clothing, and cosmetics at malls like Aberdeen Centre and Yaohan Centre.
And some of the best Japanese and Korean skin care shopping around happens in the aisles of the enormous T&T Supermarket. There you can also pick up live seafood, assorted groceries, and the latest packaged foods from around Asia, like self-heating hot pots. For a totally different shopping experience, visitors to adjacent Steveston walk out along the fisherman’s pier and shop for salmon, shrimp, and more, straight from the boats that ply the waters of British Columbia’s coast.
Thanks to the nearby airport, Richmond has plenty of places to stay, albeit mostly the typical airport-adjacent fare at varying price levels. But the best local flavor comes at the River Rock Casino—stationed across the street from the night market and within walking distance or a Skytrain stop from everything else in town. Most important, besides the obvious amenities (it is a casino, after all), there is a 70-foot indoor waterslide that will indubitably shoot any adult back to the thrills of childhood.
More fun for children—or the childlike—comes at the
Richmond Olympic Oval. Built for the 2010 Winter Olympics, it now houses a
massive recreation center with ice skating, rock climbing, batting cages, table
tennis, and an interactive “Olympic Experience” featuring interactive
challenges, virtual reality sports, and a small museum.
While visitors flock to the city year-round, Lunar New Year arrives in Richmond like it does nowhere else on the continent: as a full-fledged celebration, blanketing the town in red and gold, packing the restaurants with feasting families, and bringing lion and dragon dances into the malls. And for the approximately 400 Asian restaurants in town, this is their time to shine, serving multicourse feasts of noodles for longevity, whole fish for abundance, dumplings for wealth, and citrus fruit for good fortune. Reservations are needed pretty much anywhere in town for these feasts—and for really any dinner during holiday weekend.
The Year of the Rat officially rings in on January 25, but that serves only as the grand finale to a week of festivities building up to and preparing for the final feasts and celebrations. Bodhi Meditation hosts a second marketplace the weekend before the big day, with a fair-like atmosphere, tea garden, games for kids, a photo studio with old-style clothing, and an oracle reading, along with performances and food stalls. That same weekend, the Flower and Cultural Couplets Bazaar opens at the International Buddhist Center, with “traditional blessing couplets, auspicious flowers, snacks, and foods.” (It also puts on an all-day event on January 24, culminating in a big celebration and countdown event.)
But the most colorful, boisterous, and open celebration happens at the most intriguing intersection of Chinese and Canadian cultures: the mall. Much of the open space at Aberdeen Centre converts into a flower and gift fair, spinning the mall into a chaos of red and gold and green and pink as shoppers stock up. On January 24, the mall stays open late, with a New Year bonanza starting with a live show, blessings, and then a countdown.
The following day, along with various local dance troupes, one of the highlights of the event is the Golden Dragon and Lion Dance. The crowds follow the dancers inside as they “pick the green” or eat the heads of lettuce hung over each store, bringing luck to the shop for the year to come. Of course, anyone headed to Richmond is probably already pretty lucky—especially when it comes to getting to eat good food.
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