It should come as no surprise that I adore British Columbia. As our northerly-neighbors, BC offers much of what makes Washington spectacular. But did you know that along with rugged coastlines, glaciers and towering forests there’s also a taste of Asia in the province? With a population of over 175,000 (close to 50% of which are Chinese), the jaunt across the border to Richmond nearly mirrors what’s across the Pacific, but with a price tag that’s easier on the wallet!
My forays north – up until last year – typically included Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler and the rugged north parts of Vancouver Island. This all changed when I won a Facebook contest last year (hosted by Tourism Richmond) to spend 48 hours in their city eating and tweeting. I rose to the challenge and took on my personal version of the culinary Olympics sampling more than 90 Asian-inspired dishes over two spectacular days. Chaperoned by our charming hosts, I was led to neighborhoods and attractions I likely would never have known – nor ventured to discover – on my own.
A trip back just a few weeks ago gave me the opportunity to explore the area with no specific direction in mind, and brought more surprises along the way. I ventured (with my better-half) across the Canadian border just before sunset with nothing more in mind for the remainder of the day than a surprise dinner of traditional Changshu (叫化雞) or “Beggar’s Chicken” at Richmond’s SuHang restaurant. Looking like something out of the ‘80s movie “Cocoon” (and fully expecting it to be presented by Wilford Brimley), as rumor has it, this dish’s history began with a poor beggar in China who happened up on a wild chicken. In an attempt to keep his culinary cache a secret, he wrapped it in lotus leaves and caked it with mud (clay), then placed it over coals to cook. A traveler smelled the delicious aroma and inquired how a beggar like himself could prepare such a delicious meal. The version we enjoyed at SuHang included a delicious stuffing of sticky rice, egg, chestnut and edamame beans. Side dishes of Shanghai-style soup dumplings and spicy sautéed green beans warranted the trip alone!
Side note: This special dish does require 24-hour advance preparation and pre-ordering.
Sated with our first meal of the trip, we returned to our hotel and enjoyed a surprising quiet night on the still waters of the Moray Channel (an offshoot of the Fraser River) at Delta’s Vancouver Airport Hotel. And what a view to wake up to!
Saturday morning brought endless opportunities. Initially planning a riverside bike excursion in Steveston, the weather just wasn’t optimal. Cool temperatures and a little drizzle kept us closer to town. After a chilly stroll with chefs and locals scooting past spiny sea urchins, sablefish and halibut destined for some lucky diner’s plate, we retreated to shopping at the 700K sqft retails heaven that is Aberdeen Centre. Amid clothiers, tech-retailers and Asian marts, the third floor Fisherman’s Terrace held the key for traditional dim sum. The experience, I’m assuming, is a close facsimile to the real deal – with a crowded entry and the expected posturing for seats, we made our way in for the Holy Grail of mid-day meals.
The beauty of Aberdeen Centre is that you’re afforded the opportunity to walk-off your meal. And as expected, the chance to pick up delicious Singapore-style beef jerky freshly grilled at Mei Jan Hong. (*Be sure to mention if you’re heading back across the US border, and they’ll vacuum-seal and label it for international travel).
The interesting part about Richmond BC is the diversity of the area. Within a 5-minute drive you can be in the heart of their international marketplaces and restaurants, travelling through fields (which I assume are bursting with strawberries later in the year), or strolling along the Fraser River in charming Steveston. This is the specific reason I returned to the area: I can find a little bit of what makes me happy in a lot of different ways. Even our after-dim sum drive towards the river reaped a surprise: a street-side sign beckoned us in for beer tasting. Inside, we found a respite at O’Hare’s Pub with notable ales from Ninkasi (Oregon), New Belgium (Colorado), Diamond Knot (Washington) and BC-local Howe Sound Beer in beautiful Squamish.
But the real focus of the trip? A special invitation to join a few local BC foodies for a multi-course King Crab feast! Jade Seafood was the stadium, and their chefs knocked this crustacean-fest out of the park! From delicate steamed dumplings to legendary “Grandpa’s Chicken”, it came as no surprise to hear they were honored with two Critic’s Choice awards in 2013 for both contemporary and western-style Chinese cuisine. Our king crab was prepared three ways: steamed legs with garlic; deep-fried with an addictive crispness and spicy burn; and a spectacular rice dish with Portuguese sauce and coconut crema. Just knowing this dish exists confirms that I’ll be returning another time for seconds. 😉
It’s always sad to end a weekend – as was the case with this quick trip across the border, too. I’ve head rumor Richmond’s Night Market is not to be missed, which assures my sense of adventure (and my stomach) that I’ll be venturing north again soon. And did I mention the donuts?