Vancouverites love to explore a good trail. Avid weekend pastimes of the typical local include scoring a new personal best on the Grouse Grind, hiking the Chief, or complaining about the other people at Joffre Lakes. You could be forgiven for feeling a little left out if you, among your peers, don’t share an enthusiasm for punishing your quads every Sunday morning. But fortunately, now even the most indolent and sedentary among us have a trail we can proudly crush.
Welcome to the Dumpling Trail, comprised of 20 restaurants in Richmond that promise “all the dumplings of Asia” and are conveniently located within a few square kilometres of each other. While I can’t authenticate the claim that every variety of Asian dumpling is represented, likely even the well-seasoned dumpling eater will discover a few new varieties on this journey. If your dumpling imagination is limited to wontons or guo tie (fried Chinese potstickers), get ready for a delicious education.
Vancouver may reap a lot of glory for our varied, world-class food scene, but right next door, Richmond offers arguably the most diverse and authentic array of Chinese cuisine in North America. A quick trip on the Canada Line provides the opportunity for your taste buds to travel to Shanghai for juicy xiao long bao, or Xi’an for spicy wontons, or Guangzhou for dim sum—not to mention the innumerable other culinary options on offer, if you want to add some hand-pulled noodles or barbecued duck into the mix. Consider this an introductory tour to the endless paths that you might explore.
The Dumpling Trail is a self-guided adventure with infinite permutations, available online or in a pamphlet obtainable from Tourism Richmond or at many of the participating restaurants. Trail membership is obtained through quality: restaurants are vetted to ensure that dumplings are delicious, fresh (not frozen), and made by hand. These common factors aside, the restaurants are as wide-ranging as the dumplings themselves, including everything from upscale white-tablecloth spots to unassuming stalls in shopping mall food courts. Most are Chinese, though Korean mandu and Japanese gyoza are also represented.
When embarking on the Dumpling Trail, one may plan her itinerary by restaurant, or by dumpling; the guide includes pictures and descriptions of 12 popular varieties and where to find the best examples of each. On a recent Sunday, I visited three restaurants and tried six varieties of dumplings (plus char siu bao, because who can resist?).
First up: har gow (translucent shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) from Empire Seafood Restaurant. These varieties are mainstays, available at every dim sum restaurant and T&T food court, but the ones at Empire are exceptionally flavourful, fresh, and delicate.
Next, we journeyed to the Richmond Public Market—think Granville Island Public Market, without the crush of tourists or threat of seagulls—for a stop at Xi’An Cuisine, where we ordered pork potstickers and spicy wontons. The potstickers were hearty and delicious; the wontons were served in a shallow bath of spicy, tangy sauce, which was the perfect contrast to a bubble tea (ordered from across the market, at Peanuts).
From there we probably could have gone home full and happy, but instead we ventured to Lansdowne Centre: an unexpected place, to say the least, for sublime, hand-crafted dumplings. In the food court, we ordered the juiciest xiao long bao and boiled pork and chive dumplings, and as we waited for them we watched two ladies behind the counter, perched on stools, who methodically filled, shaped, and twisted dumplings with nonchalant artistry. I wanted to whisper over the partition that they should double their prices; the skill here makes you ashamed of everything you’ve ever made in the kitchen.
The Dumpling Trail is best explored between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when restaurants make their full dim sum menus available. An early start is also a good idea, to beat the lunch rush that peaks around noon on weekends; besides, dumplings make an excellent breakfast. Travelling in groups is key if you want to sample broadly from the assorted options, as is bringing cash (many restaurants don’t accept cards). Three or four stops are a manageable endeavour for a group with healthy appetites. Wear comfortable shoes for walking between stops, to aid digestion and alleviate caloric guilt. Stopping for bubble tea is strongly recommended. When exploring a trail, it’s essential to be prepared.