What would you expect to find in a town with 400 Asian restaurants and just 210,000 people, 65% of Asian descent?
You’d find some of the best Chinese food this side of, well, China. Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, is home to a large population of Asians who settled here in the late 1970s (they translated Richmond to “Rich Man”) and opened restaurants because they missed their food from home.
So how does a small town hidden in the shadows of a world-famous destination stand out? Dumplings. Yep, Richmond’s own Dumpling Trail lets visitors experience the best of the best Asian food, dumplings to be specific, the city has to offer.
Currently, 20 restaurants are part of the Dumpling Trail, locations hand-selected by tourism experts for their authenticity. You can experience more than 20 types of dumplings – gyozas, wontons, pot stickers, buns (technically they’re dumplings), soup dumplings, dessert dumplings and your boiled, fried, pan-fried and steamed versions.
A few caveats before we embark on the trail. First, this experience is not for the faint of heart or carb-conscious calorie-watchers. It’s the ultimate indulgence in this international cuisine. Second, prepare to have your mind blown if you think a dumpling is a dumpling is a dumpling. Prepare to be schooled in Dumpling 101. Third, study the handy dandy guide provided by the Visit Richmond BC and map out your plan of attack. If you stick to just dumplings, you can fit in numerous locations each day.
Here are my recommended favorites
For the flavors:
Pepper Lunch – order the Beef Pepper Rice made with Waygu beef. No, it’s not a dumpling but just trust me. It’s transformative. So are the Hokkaido scallops. Also order the gyozas – they come in chicken or beef. And the mochi! Don’t forget the mochi – it’s ice cream wrapped in a rice paper shell, so technically it could be a dumpling. Try the mango, green tea and black sesame flavors.
Empire Seafood – this is the best damn dim sum (see what I did there?) you’ll come across outside of China. Just fill the table with a selection from the menu and you won’t go wrong. The Wu Gok taro dumplings had an amazing flavor. Siu mai is always a crowd pleaser.
Xi’An Cuisine at the Richmond Public Market – order the spicy wontons. That’s all you need to know. And it’s okay to drink the leftover sauce – at least that’s what I was told.
Golden Sichuan – if spicy chilis are your thing, then this is the place to go. I enjoyed the Barramundi fish covered in chilis. It had an amazing flavor and it was the perfect heat for me.
Shanghai Station – ask for Lisa, the owner, who won the Chinese Food Award for her spicy wontons. We were treated to a new specialty soon to be added to the menu, a dessert dumpling stuffed with sweet potato, sweet corn, and red bean paste drizzled with a sweet, sticky rose water simple syrup. This was certainly a new one in my book!
For the experience:
Su Hang Restaurant – order the Xiao Long Bao, an authentic Taiwanese dumpling, but be sure you dine with a someone experienced in the art of eating this unusual soup dumpling, or ask the waitstaff for a few instructions. It’s a multi-part process to bite into this dumpling filled with hot soup to avoid spilling it down your shirt. If pork buns are your thing, this is the place to eat them.
Xi’An Cuisine at the Richmond Public Market – here’s where you’ll want to watch the traditional art of hand-pulled noodles.
Shanghai Station – spend a few minutes wandering the mall and visit one of the Chinese pharmacies.
Shangri-La Foot Spa – okay, so you won’t find any dumplings here but it’s a great place to put up your feet and enjoy a reflexology treatment while you digest all of those dumplings.
My tips for navigating the Richmond BC Dumpling Trail:
1. Abstain from eating any Asian food one week prior or you’ll burn out on Day 1.
2. Reservations are highly recommended, especially for Dim Sum or in the evenings.
3. Many of these establishments are cash only. Don’t worry – the prices are extremely affordable – you can get a plate of dumplings for about $10USD.
4. Wear pants with an expandable waistline – yoga pants are encouraged.
5. Leave your gluten-free friends at home. Dumpling dough is not gluten-free and you will not find any GF options.
6. Do not be afraid of mall food courts or strip centers – this is where you’ll find some of the best and most authentic Chinese food.
7. Be adventurous. Try everything. You won’t find many of these offerings in your hometown Chinese carry-out establishment.
8. When your belly gets too full to waddle back to your hotel, don’t plan to “call an Uber.” They don’t exist in Richmond, although cabs are fairly abundant.
9. Allow a few hours to take the Canada line rail into Vancouver and explore.
10. If you have an extra afternoon, spend a few hours in the quaint seaside village of Steveson. Wander through the town and visit the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Museum.