Richmond's Bushuair dishes up Hunan-style hot and spicy prawns.
To sample the staggering diversity of Chinese cuisine, you could book a flight to Beijing and spend the next four months crisscrossing the country. A less daunting option: Spend a day in Richmond, British Columbia. More than a third of the population of this Vancouver suburb has roots in China, and the town—which boasts 400 Asian restaurants—has become a one-stop shop for lovers of regional Chinese cooking.
Begin the day at Alleluia Café (188-8131 Westminster Hwy., 604-271-8266) with some Hong Kong comfort food: peanut butter and condensed milk on pillowy white toast. It’s so improbably satisfying you’ll wonder why so many people continue to stick with jelly. The classic accompaniment is milk tea, bracing and tannic, an acquired taste you’ll acquire by the end of your first steaming mug.
For the Taiwanese take on tea, refuel at Cherry Fruit Juice & Icy Bar (1515-4380 No. Three Rd., 604-273-8337), one of many stands offering bubble tea, a cold, sweet, milky drink full of marble-size tapioca pearls. Too strange? The snacks here are irresistible. Try mango ice, a heaping mound of ethereal shaved ice topped with vanilla ice cream and almost an entire fresh mango.
Save room for lunch at the Jade Seafood Restaurant (8511 Alexandra Rd., 604-249-0082, jaderestaurant.ca), where the dim sum—a specialty of China’s Guangdong province—has the delicacy of a Song dynasty landscape painting. A plate of wide rice noodles dotted with scallops and chives is a study in ivory, pale pink, and celadon green. Bundles of sliced mushrooms bound in translucent wrappers look too lovely to eat—but you’ll be happy when you do.
A stall in a shopping mall sells the little-known foods of the Muslim Chinese. Pork is forbidden under Islamic law, so Xin Jiang Delicious Food (2380-8260 Westminster Hwy., 604-307-8692)—named for Xinjiang, China’s largely Muslim northwestern province—serves toothsome morsels of spicy lamb along with chewy hand-stretched noodles.
By contrast, the fare of the mountainous Hunan province is largely about pig, salted and smoked. Finish your day of dining at Bushuair (121-4600 No. Three Rd., 604-285-3668) with a heaping platter of fiery Hunanese bacon and dried bean curd.
Photography by Robbie McClaran
This article was first published in January 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.