EXPERIENCING THE DUMPLING TRAIL OF RICHMOND, B.C.
By Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’
Crispy, chewy, pan fired, boiled, vegetarian, floating in soup, prepared as a dessert or sizzling on a hot cast iron skillet…the most authentic dumplings in North America can be found in Richmond, B.C.
I spent two days recently on The Dumpling Trail in Richmond B.C. , visiting six of the best dumpling houses in Richmond, eating over 50+ kinds of dumplings, getting a foot massage, finding out about facial masks and taking a quick spin around the historic canning town of Steveston. I’ll tell you how to do that and share a dumpling recipe with you in a moment.
The brand-new Dumpling Trail, which Tourism Richmond officially launched in late August, 2016, showcases a carefully chosen list of restaurants serving varying styles of dumplings, not just hailing from China, but from elsewhere in Asia as well.
The Dumpling Trail comes with its own website www.DumplingTrail.com, and take along the brochure and map designed to give newbie visitors an access point into the city’s thriving and very crowded restaurant scene. Since travelers make meals a key part of their travel experience, what could be better? Tourism Richmond has gathered the best of the best in Asian dumpling dining into a beginner’s guide to boiled, deep-fried, steamed, pleated, knotted, open top, thick-skinned, thin-skinned, wheat, tapioca or rice pastry dumplings, with regional variations.
Doing a bit of research before I went dumpling diving, I found that for many Chinese eating dumplings is a kind of celebratory occasion where hope, peace and a sense of completeness comes to the dinner table . In China, jiǎo zi (dumpling) are eaten during the Spring Festival to usher in the Lunar New Year, marking new beginnings. The dumplings are each shaped like a crescent moon with ridged designs embedded across their skins. In Chinese culture the moon is symbolic of promising abundance and brightness. Eat dumplings, you are eating harmony and prosperity. Who wouldn’t want to participate in that? Dumplings like siu mai typify good financial fortune. Eat dumplings, eat your way to riches and an affluent new beginning.
Eating Chinese dumplings is often a meal where you share. In Chinese culture, teamwork rises above individuality; sharing is honorable. Sure, you can order a whole plate of dumplings and have it all to yourself, but sharing is caring…besides there are only so many dumplings you can eat. Who knew one could become an honorable being just by sharing dumplings?
My misconception that all dumplings are distinctively Chinese was dashed during my visit. They aren’t. There are Polish dumplings (Pierogi). German dumplings (Kartoffelknoedel, or potato filled). Swedish (Pitepalt, a meat-filled potato dumpling). Russian dumplings (Pelmeni stuffed with anything from meat to mushrooms to cheese). Ravioli now looks a lot like a dumpling to me. From gyozas to empanadas there are countless versions of the dumpling. On this dumpling trail you are most likely to find a variety of Chinese, Korean and Japanese dumplings.
No matter how they taste, there’s always an air of excitement when it comes to eating dumplings. The cost for a group of 5 will likely be around $50 which should make everyone happy. Dumpling tasting is like a game of tasty chance, picking up tiny morsels from plates in front of you with chopsticks (or in my case – a fork. No judging please) in hope of finding the “one” that will stick in your mind forever. No matter who we are or who we are with, Chinese dumplings from Richmond, B.C. make up incalculable physical and emotional connections that go from meal to experience.
If you have two – three days to find the best – try the following. And hey – don’t be afraid to go off the trail for a moment or two to discover new things! Here are my favorite stops for your consideration.
- Stay at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. It is located (despite the name) in the middle of the Dumpling Trail, thus making it possible to walk to many of the suggested dumpling places.
- Samsoonie Noodle & Rice for Mandu dumplings (#17 on the map) A true mom and pop stop. They’ll smother you with love and appreciation for stopping by.
- Su Hang Restaurant for Xiao Long Bao dumplings (#12 on the map). A modern interior welcomes you, but the Shanghai style cuisine will bring you back.
- Empire Seafood Restaurant for Siu Mai and Dim Sum (#13 on the map). If I could only do one stop, this would be it. Big, bold, beautiful brunch served daily 9 am – 2 pm. Reservations!
- Pepper Lunch for beef & chicken Gyozas (#14 on the map). The most unlikely dumpling looking place, think fast food “look” but a beautiful slow food soul. The owner is VERY serious about fresh and good. Try everything they have – most served sizzling hot on a cast iron plate.
- Xi’An Cuisine at the Richmond Public Market for Spicy wontons in spicy sauce to die for (#19 on the map). On my last visit to Richmond (Hole in the Wall foodie Tour), I learned some of THE best Chinese cuisine can be found in malls and public markets. If you’re looking for spicy, you’ve found it. Most of us were drinking the sauce by the end of the meal.
- Plan on going a little early to the next stop so you can shop in the Asian Market in the same strip mall. Lots of beautiful fruits, vegetables, condiments, canned goods and personal collapsible stainless steel chopsticks in a tiny lipstick sized travel case. This was also my intro to shopping for unique beauty items. The most fascinating among the offerings were the facial mask sheets. A very trendy item in the states, but a bit hard to find off line. Here, there lots of choices. Everything from collagen masks, brightening masks, essence of snail secretion masks, and the ever fun moisturizing masks that actually go on as an animal mask- Koala, tiger, bunny, etc. They’re affordable – about $3.00 a mask or less. They are great for rehydrating your skin when traveling or scaring your travel partner when you flounce out of the bathroom wearing a Panda mask slathered on your face. Just sayin’.
- Shanghai Station for Guo Tie pot-stickers (#7 on the map). Southern style pot stickers will have you drooling, but the Rose Lover dumplings will bring tears to your eyes. Gorgeous, romantic dumplings not to be missed.
- Take a break and try a reflexology foot treatment at Shangri-La Food Spa which includes a vigorous back massage. I did this as a “lark” and ended up a long-term fan. For under $25, relax and go with the flow. Much like what I found when I was in Asia, the experience was memorable. The staff speaks English and tips are appropriate.
- Golden Sichuan Restaurant for Sichuan style spicy water boiled dumplings (#3 on the map). A great final dinner place. Many dishes – like the pork strips hung from a bamboo trellis and fish in chile peppers – are mind blowing in their presentation.
- Steveston. Before you head off, take a short 30 minute drive to the port town of Steveston. It’s an old salmon canning town, now turned into a thriving coastal attraction. Many of you will know it from TV. It’s the backdrop for the small town of Storybrooke in the ABC hit TV series Once Upon a Time. The real attractions are The Gulf of Georgia Cannery, a National Historic Site operated by Parks Canada which offers a fascinating glimpse into the past. Take a long stroll or bike around the Steveston dikes where you experience quiet rural landscapes with seasonal fields of strawberries, cabbage and pumpkins to the north and beautiful views of the Fraser River, Ladner and Mt. Baker to the south.
One of the things I learned on the Dumpling Trail is that dumplings can also be sweet. Try this favorite dumpling recipe of mine courtesy of Chef Farker and Melissa’s/World Variety Produce.
Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer based out of Southern California, who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits. Visit www.AllInGoodTaste.info.