RICHMOND, Canada—The plate of roasted meat glistened under the dim lights of the tiny restaurant. Its wafting fragrance immediately took me back to when my mother and I sat at the dinner table in our apartment in New York’s Chinatown, breathing in that same sweetly charred aroma of meat marinated in soy sauce, five-spice, and ginger.
Back then, on nights when Mom was too tired to cook, a takeout container filled with Cantonese barbecue satiated us, the meat jus and oil soaking into our bowls of rice, enticing and luscious.
In the restaurant, amid the thumps of the chef’s meat cleaver against the chopping board, I bit into a piece of roast pork with crackling, called “siu yok” in Cantonese. The skin crunched between my teeth, salty and warm, before the thin layer of fat and succulent meat melted in my mouth.
This wasn’t just any Cantonese roast pork. It was the best I’d ever had.
The restaurant at which I found such extraordinary pork, HK BBQ Master, is located in Richmond, British Columbia, a city just 25 minutes from downtown Vancouver.
Richmond is a wonderland of Asian cuisine, thanks to an immigrant boom that began in the 1970s. Many of the early immigrants were from Hong Kong, who left their homes in anticipation of political and economic change upon the 1997 handover of power from Great Britain to China. Skilled chefs brought along their culinary talents.
Eric Leung, the chef at HK BBQ Master, has been practicing his craft since his teenage days in Hong Kong (from age 14, to be exact). His experience tells him to season the meats lightly so their natural flavors can sing—and to take time roasting them, controlling the fire deftly so that the right crisp and glaze develop.
Richmond is no touristy Chinatown; locals say the Chinese food here rivals what they can get in Asia. Over cups of Pu’er tea brewed from the leaves of a 300-year-old tree, the two sisters who run the Yuan Chen tea shop told me they believe it’s because of the fresh, readily available seafood in the Pacific coast waters. Especially for Cantonese cuisine—a culture that celebrates the taste of the sea—Richmond provides the perfect conditions.
I got a taste of that while sampling dim sum at Fisherman’s Terrace, an establishment helmed by chefs from Hong Kong. Har gow, or shrimp dumplings, are a good litmus test for a restaurant’s ability to take fresh ingredients and let them speak for themselves: in the typical preparation, the shrimp are lightly seasoned, then steamed. Here, the shrimp’s sweetness shone through, while the texture was the ideal al dente—not mushy, not rubbery, but with just a little bite.
Practically everywhere I went to eat in Richmond was teeming with people. The city’s 214,000 residents have more than 800 eateries to choose from. The dining-out culture common cosmopolitan Asian cities has clearly made its way here.
Even on a day of continuous, pouring rain, diners clamored into the food court inside Aberdeen Centre, a massive three-story Asian shopping mall named after a harbor in Hong Kong. Like the food courts in Asia, this one is filled with different vendor stalls offering an array of cuisines, from Japanese pork cutlet to Singaporean laksa to Hong Kong-style desserts.
Walking through the mall’s shops felt like a stroll through a microcosm of Asia: there are toy capsule machines, a chain dollar store from Japan, a candy shop filled with all kinds of Asian snacks (dried tangerine peel, hawthorn fruits, tropical fruit gummies), and even a store selling fancy bidets.
But Aberdeen is not the only food court in town. Parker Place is smaller in scale, but its food is no less enticing. At Lai Taste, a Chinese-Vietnamese food stall, one of the most popular dishes is the fried fish filet bahn mi sandwich, consisting of lightly battered bass covered in a tangy sweet tartare sauce that invites bite after bite—until the sandwich is gone (and I wish I had eaten it more slowly).
As grills sizzled and Korean pop music blared on the speakers, eaters young and old lined up to sample street food from different cultures. The most exciting dishes were those not commonly found on the East Coast: I tried my first Taiwanese stinky tofu, pungent and garlicky, as well as my first Czech-style chimney cake, a hollowed-out pastry resembling a chewier cinnamon donut.
There was a surprise at every corner: from fun North American twists on Asian dishes (mac-and-cheese stuffed Korean fried chicken wings) to vendors selling socks with Sailormoon and American superhero characters printed on them. I looked up and saw the beautiful North Shore Mountains resting on the horizon, and for a moment, I felt like I had truly escaped to a distant land in the Far East.
This trip was arranged by Tourism Richmond. For more information see tourismrichmond.com
Best Dishes Around Richmond
Most locations are easily accessible via the TransLink SkyTrain or bus.
HK BBQ Master
4651 No. 3 Road (enter in the parking lot under the Real Canadian Superstore)
Must-haves: Crispy Roasted Pork and BBQ Pork Over Rice
Yuan Chen Tea
1218-8338 Capstan Way
Must-have: Pu’er tea
Book tastings by calling 604-278-1115
Fisherman’s Terrace (inside Aberdeen Centre)
4151 Hazelbridge Way
Must-haves: Fresh Shrimp Dumplings (har gow), Pork Dumplings with tobiko (shu mai), Baked BBQ Pork Pastry, Baked Egg Tarts
Seats fill up quickly, so reserve in advance by calling 604-303-9739
4151 Hazelbridge Way
Best snack: Matcha egg waffles at Bubble Waffle Café
4380 No. 3 Road
Must-haves: fried fish banh mi sandwich at Lai Taste; roast duck at the Parker Place Meat & BBQ butcher shop
2971 Sexsmith Road
Must-have: Larmen with soy sauce broth
8571 Alexandra Road
Must-have: Mango bingsoo
The Bubble Tea Shop
4651 No. 3 Road (also underneath the Real Canadian Superstore)
Must-haves: blueberry crumble egg waffles
Kam Do Bakery
6211 No 3 Road
Must-haves: “wife” cakes (pastries with bitter melon filling)
Foody World supermarket
3000 Sexsmith Road
Must-haves: all sorts of Asian snacks and specialty products
12631 Vulcan Way
Must-haves: Stinky tofu and Taiwanese wheel cake at TW Traditional Snacks; curry fish balls at Top Wok; deep-fried scallop skewers at Sea Monster; chimney cake at Top Dough
Richmond Night Market
Open through Oct. 10
8351 River Road
Must-haves: Lamb skewers at Chef James Xinjiang Man BBQ, Poke bowl at Ohana Poke, Mango flower at Mango Tango, roti with Malaysian curry at Maman La