L’agglomération de Vancouver, souvent appelée le Grand Vancouver, est composée de 24 districts régionaux. Le centre-ville de Vancouver, le grand centre urbain, ne représente que 650 000 personnes. La ville de Richmond est l’enclave chinoise la plus dense de l’agglomération de Vancouver, à 30 minutes de voiture au sud du centre-ville, ou même moins par la Canada Line Skytrain (ligne de train canadienne). Quand les gens disent que Vancouver a la meilleure nourriture chinoise que l’on trouve hors de la Chine, tout le monde se réfère à Richmond.
Historiquement village de pêcheurs dormant, Richmond a explosé en tant que métropole moderne dans les années 90 quand elle est devenue un aimant pour les immigrants de Hong Kong sans le sou cherchant un refuge après que la colonie britannique soit retournée sous domination chinoise. Les récents mouvements migratoires ont porté une vague d’immigrants nouveaux riches de la Chine continentale cherchant un havre sûr pour leur argent.
Au-delà de la hausse fulgurante des prix de l’immobilier (les Vancouvérois sont obsédés par les biens fonciers), le changement démographique a eu un impact sur la culture gastronomique. Autrefois le foyer des meilleurs restaurants de dim sum cantonais hors de Hong Kong, Richmond s’appuie aujourd’hui sur une cuisine de Guangdong ou de Shanghai plus audacieusement parfumée et qui affiche de façon ostentatoire sa richesse : boulettes couvertes de truffes, ailes de poulet fourrées au foie gras et des celliers remplis de Bordeaux en primeur.
All the latest Asian trends converge under one roof at the Aberdeen Centre, an exotic shopping plaza that features an indoor water fountain with hourly music shows similar to those outside the famous Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas. When it was first built in the 1990s, Aberdeen Centre (named after Hong Kong’s famous tourist harbour), was the largest enclosed Asian retail centre in North America.
It reopened in 2003 after a $130-million-dollar renovation (by renowned Vancouver architect Bing Thom), which made it roughly three times larger than its original size: now it resembles a luminous butterfly, with its sweeping curved façade of coloured glass. Inside, three levels of shopping flow around a central galleria and amphitheatre-style court designed for festive community celebrations. The shops are a curious mix of western furniture outlets and traditional herbal apothecaries, all anchored by Daiso, the famous Japanese discount store where everything – from Hello Kitty cupcake tins to porcelain teacups – costs $2.
Arguably the biggest draw is the mall’s 800-seat food court. Dozens of vendors, including many popular Asian franchises, dole out sugary bubble waffles, cream puffs and mango slushies, along with some decent hot pots and dumplings. Don’t miss Chef Hung, an award-winning Taiwanese noodle shop famous for its hand-cut beef noodles in a deeply dark, delicious anise-flavoured broth.
Whatever the budget or craving, you will find an abundance of regional Chinese and other Asian delights in Richmond’s Golden Village, a four-block cluster of strip malls and shopping plazas near No. 3 Road. The highest concentration of restaurants – 200-plus in three blocks – is on Alexandra Road, aka Food Street. Competition among Richmond chefs is famously cutthroat. Word of mouth spreads fast and bad restaurants simply don’t stay in business for very long. This might very well be the only place where Yelp can be safely trusted. Richmond food lovers/fake reviews can’t be bought here.
Loud, chaotic and disorganised: these are the charms of the Richmond Public Market, which feels truer to those found in Asia than any other in the city. On the main floor shop for pastries, meat, fruit, vegetables and every type of fish ball you can imagine. While you’re at it, why not have your pants hemmed or hair trimmed? Seamstresses, computer shops, lottery outlet, pirated-DVD vendors – it’s all crammed here under one roof.
An expansive food court takes up most of the second floor. Among all the storefronts, Xi’an Cuisine is the most mesmerising. The shop, named after the capital of Shaanxi Province, is known for its hand-pulled noodles. Working at the front counter, the chef cuts a piece of thick dough and quickly rolls it with his palms into a long rope, which he keeps stretching with amazing speed and precision into dozens of thin noodles. Back in the kitchen, the noodles are dunked into soup or 7 fried with hot spices. Do try the “cutting noodles with lamb soup”. If you still have room, finish off with a pork burger – moist, shredded shoulder meat stuffed into a golden, fresh-baked bun.
Milk tea is one of the most popular beverages in Hong Kong. The tradition goes back to the 1960s, when English afternoon tea was served only at high-end hotels or private clubhouses. Street stalls began serving a more affordable version (blended with canned evaporated or condensed milk) for the working classes.
The secret to a smooth cup of milk tea is the ‘silk stocking’ in which it is brewed. A house blend of various Ceylon leaves is filtered through an old-fashioned sackcloth bag half a dozen times. In Vancouver and Richmond you can sample the milky goodness (hot or iced) at numerous Hong Kong-style cafés, which specialise in westernised comfort foods such as cheesy baked seafood or fried pork chops.
Lido Restaurant, with its blazing overhead lights and hand-printed menus tacked to the walls on pink cardboard, is a nostalgic favourite for many. Pair your hot cuppa with a creamy egg tart or warm pineapple bun with a slab of butter in the middle. At Deer Garden Signatures, milk tea (the iced version is best) comes with Hong Kong-style toast: pillowy pullman loaf daintily sliced into four crustless triangles. Choose from plain buttered toast, condensed milk and butter toast or the oddly delicious condensed milk and peanut butter.
Of all the Chinese BBQ joints in Richmond, HK BBQ Master is widely touted as the best. Although hidden off the main strip in a ground-floor car park adjacent to a massive Superstore grocery chain, this fast-serve meat monger is easy to find: just look for the long queue that usually spills onto the sidewalk. Whether taking out or eating in, everyone orders at the front counter, a nononsense assembly line where the cooks pull the charred meat off of roasting hooks and cleave portions to order.
Combos served on Styrofoam come with white rice and a superfluous piece of green vegetable. HK BBQ Master is best known for its roast pork (char siu). Instead of roasting a whole pig, the owner uses only pork belly. This ensures that each piece has a consistent ratio of lean meat to meltingly soft fat layered under crackling skin. The honey-glazed BBQ pork and darkly caramelised duck are both commendable, but the underrated gem here is soya sauce chicken. Don’t let the dimpled raw birds with long gangly necks in the display case put you off. Drizzled with green onion and ginger sauce, this slightly sweet marinated chicken is mouth-wateringly juicy.