This article was adapted from National Geographic Traveller (UK).
"Chinese culture is very subtle,” says Robert ‘Bob’ Sung. “It’s all about symbolism.”
That may well be true, but little is subtle about the slices of char siu we’re devouring from a polystyrene tray on a Chinatown corner. The hot, sweet morsels of pork fromMoney BBQ & Produce are fatty and lurid red. “It all has a meaning,” adds Bob. Red, he says, is a symbol of joy and after today’s feast — my fingers sticky with scarlet sauce — I expect to be a very happy man indeed.
Bob is leading me on one of hisA Wok Around Chinatown tours, exploring the cuisine of Vancouver’s Chinese community. A third-generation Chinese-Canadian, he comes from a family who’ve been living in Canada for more than a century, much of it working in British Columbia’s food industry. “I was always surrounded by the aromas of the kitchen growing up,” he says, as we pass shops strung with red-and-gold lanterns.
It’s fitting — symbolic, some might say — that gold still gleams amid the old neon of Chinatown today. In the mid-19th century, thousands of Cantonese-speaking migrants came to British Columbia from southern China for the Gold Rush, and many of them were employed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway in the decades that followed. Some stayed on afterwards, working in sawmills and fish canneries, but found themselves marginalised by the rest of the population. Chinatowns began to develop across Canada, with tight-knit communities of bakeries, restaurants and food stores soon opening their doors.
“Cantonese cuisine is still very apparent in Vancouver,” says Bob. “And still today, practically every town in Canada has a Chinese restaurant.” Many familiar ‘Chinese’ dishes have their roots in that migration to North America. Fortune cookies, I learn San Francisco, while chop suey also has its roots in the continent. Ginger beef, meanwhile, is a uniquely Chinese-Canadian invention and a takeaway favourite here.
Distinctly Chinese flavours aren’t hard to find either. Just down from the ornate Millennium Gate isThe Chinese Tea Shop, its interior filled with the earthy perfume of fermented pu-erh tea. “There’s a real art to Chinese tea,” says Jennifer Lui. The wife of shop owner Daniel, Jennifer guides me through the varieties lined up on the shelves — green teas, black teas, oolongs and florals — along with the beautiful teapots, including ones made of Yixing clay, which allows the more complex teas to breathe.
“I think people are interested in the meditative quality of Chinese tea,” she says. “You have to focus on the brewing, the pouring. Learn how to make a good cup and the spiritual stuff comes later.”
After tea, Bob leads me to a herbal medicine store, where huge crates are piled with ingredients: dried mango; angelica; ruby-red goji berries; gingko nuts; and fat choy, a black vegetable that looks alarmingly like a Brillo pad. “Food and health are synonymous in Chinese cuisine,” he says, explaining that everything is associated with a health benefit. Shiitake mushrooms, he explains, gesturing to the dried, fragrant fungi, are apparently great for weight loss. “And then there’s dried gecko,” he says, smiling. He produces a desiccated gecko on a stick, twiddling it between his fingers like a lizard lollipop. “Believed to help asthma.”
There are flashes of modernity among these old pillars of Chinese cuisine — trendy fusion dim sum joints, speakeasies, minimalist tea shops — and Bob is feeling reflective. “Times have changed,” he says. “There used to be more herbal stores here, but historic Chinatown is less relevant than it used to be.” Partly due to rising rents, many of Chinatown’s residents started moving out to the suburbs in the 1980s, creating ‘new’ Chinatowns. Migration, too, has changed: those moving to Vancouver today are from all over China rather than just the south, and often come from considerable wealth, too. “I saw a learner driver here the other day,” laughs Bob. “She was learning in a pink Lamborghini.” It’s a far cry from the days of the railways.
Taking the SkyTrain rather than a supercar, I head south to Richmond, one of the ‘satellite Chinatowns’ Bob describes. Technically a separate city, it’s a busy grid of long avenues and shopping malls where 54% of the population claims Chinese heritage — the highest proportion in Canada. The December drizzle has lifted to reveal the skyscrapers of downtown Vancouver in the distance; beyond, forest-covered mountains dusted with snow. “That’s how we orient ourselves when it’s not raining,” laughs Lesley Chang. “If you see the mountains, then that’s north.”
Richmond born and bred, Lesley is, in truth, more interested in the area’s food than its weather: she helped to create Richmond’s Dumpling Trail in 2017 when she worked for the local tourist board. But as we settle in the vast Empire Seafood Restaurant, it’s not just dumplings and dim sum she’s keen to show me, but a feast fit for an emperor. “Chinatown speaks to a certain era,” she says, pouring me a cup of hot yellow tea. “A lot of Chinese tourists come and think it’s kitschy. But Richmond feels more like modern China.”
Before long, dish after dish arrives at the table: stir-fried pea shoots; prawn dumplings; cool slivers of jellyfish in chilli oil; and a bamboo steamer of xiao long bao (dumplings filled with hot broth). Liu sha bao, squidgy white buns bursting with a rich, salty-sweet yellow custard, soon follow.
For 11am, it’s quite the breakfast. “Flavours aren’t watered down here,” says Lesley. “Chefs don’t shy away from using lots of pepper in Sichuan cuisine, for example.”
And at Richmond Public Market, there’s nowhere to shy away, even if you wanted to. A reflection of the diverse migration from China today, the ground floor of this covered hall has everything from bilingual children’s books to every root vegetable you could ever need. The air’s heavy with the scent of oil and broth, of chilli, five spice, garlic and ginger. It’s all coming from the food court upstairs, where a whirlwind tour of China’s countless kitchens awaits: sesame bubble tea and Xinjiang-style halal dishes; great bowls of spicy, Cantonese hotpot; dandan noodles from Sichuan; and cumin lamb skewers from Xi’an. “I love this place. You could almost be in China,” says Lesley, as we pass a row of hoodies emblazoned with maple leaves.
But if it’s barbecue you’re after, there’s only one place to go. A few years ago, Anson Leung took over HK BBQ Master from his father, Eric, and oversees a small, busy kitchen — in a multi-storey car park, no less — rustling up the likes of honey barbecue pork and soy chicken. “Richmond has changed a lot,” he says over the sound of knives thwacking chopping boards in the kitchen. “You’ve suddenly got youngsters rediscovering their grandparents’ recipes and opening new restaurants. It’s the place to come for Asian food.”
A plate of crispy pork and rice heads our way, the slices of meat sporting bronzed shields of crackling. Anson drizzles it with a sauce made with leftover chicken juices, and boiled down to a delicious, meaty elixir.
That life-affirming liquor aside, I wonder what the recipe for HK BBQ Master’s success is. “Barbecue is something both Chinese and Canadian people can appreciate,” says Anson. “We’ve never had to change the way we cook things because it’s so simple, so effective. Oh, and Seth Rogen helped, too,”he laughs, recalling the time the actor stopped by for an episode of Netflix’s Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in 2019.
But it’s not just Hollywood stars who come here; hungry Vancouverites have been calling in all afternoon to pick-up their pre-ordered feasts, washed down with Hong Kong milk tea. “Do you want some duck, too?” asks Anson. But before he’s even finished speaking, a waiter sets down another plate on our already-crowded table. The steaming slices of barbecued meat glisten in their dark, umami-rich glaze. Perhaps this was the good fortune I was promised.
Three of Vancouver's best East Asian restaurants
1. Miku: Overlooking the waterfront, this is the city’s go-to for top-notch aburi-style sushi, a method that involves briefly flame-searing the fish to bring out new flavours and textures. There are excellent selections of sashimi and nigiri to enjoy — including albacore tuna, prawn and barbecue eel — with smatterings of flowers and dry ice for added theatre. The salmon oshi sushi with jalapeño (pictured) is a must. Sashimi platters from CA$29 (£17).
2. Bao Bei: A slick range of small plates and killer cocktails in a buzzy, low-lit space mean this Chinatown brasserie is a hit with locals. Start with the handmade steamed pork and nettle dumplings, before working through the rest of the menu: highlights include chickpea tofu with black garlic emulsion and marinated oyster mushroom; ‘kick-ass’ fried rice; and fish of the day, served with kimchi butter and Chinese gnocchi. Dumplings from CA$14 (£8); small plates from CA$16 (£9).
3. Maenam: In the fashionable ’hood of Kitsilano, chef Angus An’s considered menu is a modern celebration of Southeast Asian cooking, featuring some of the West Coast’s best produce. Dishes sing with flavour: fiery bowls of tom kah coconut soup packed with mushrooms; rich green curry with Thai aubergines and local sturgeon, with a good list of colourful house cocktails to boot. In the likely event that you’re spoilt for choice, go for one of the excellent chef’s menus, with wine pairings available. Chef’s menu from CA$115 (£68), without wine.
Five more foods to try
1. Ice cream: Mister makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen right before your eyes. The result? A perfectly smooth scoop in flavours such as creme brulee and shortbread.
2. Japadog: You’ll need a serviette for these hotdogs loaded with all kinds of Asian-inspired toppings, including yakisoba noodles and crispy, shredded seaweed.
3. London Fog:This coffee shop classic of Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and a shot of vanilla syrup was first brewed in Vancouver in the 1990s and is served all over town.
4. Apple tarts: For more than 40 years, New Town Bakery in Chinatown has been baking these sweet, puff-pastry turnovers. Join the queue and grab one to go.
5. Craft beer: Sample some of the city’s best breweries and taprooms on a bar crawl in laid-back North Vancouver — check out the BC Ale Trail for pointers.
Published in the May 2022 issue ofNational Geographic Traveller (UK)
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The Canadian city has long been home to a thriving Chinese community, its presence most apparent in the food scene, where the traditional and modern come together with a dash of West Coast cool. Distinctly Chinese flavours aren't difficult to find in Vancouver.Why do so many Chinese move to Vancouver? ›
The legacy of Chinese immigration is prevalent throughout the Vancouver area. Chinese Canadians have been a presence in Vancouver since its 1886 incorporation. Shifts in the economy of smaller towns in British Columbia and immigration caused the size of Vancouver's ethnic Chinese community to increase.Which cuisine is the most influential Chinese regional cuisine ___? ›
Although it is less available in the West, Shandong cuisine is often considered one of the most influential styles of cooking in the Chinese culinary history.Why does Chinese cuisine considered as one of the diverse cuisine in the world? ›
China has always been very diverse geographically, and this explains the existence of the wide variety of food ingredients and the extensive range of their distribution. The Chinese made edible many living things that are not known or considered taboo in other nations; some of these became delectable dishes.Which cuisines is Vancouver famous for? ›
Some of the famous foods of Vancouver are Japadog, B.C. rolls, Salmon Candy, Spot Prawns, West Coast Oysters, Dungeness Crab, Chinese Cuisine and Dim Sum. What are some local and street food in Vancouver? There are many street and local foods in Vancouver.What is Vancouver called in Chinese? ›
Saltwater City (Chinese: 鹹水埠) – name for Vancouver used by early Chinese immigrants to the city.Which Canadian city has the most Chinese? ›
The Chinese are the largest visible minority group in Alberta and British Columbia, and are the second largest in Ontario. The highest concentration of Chinese Canadians is in Vancouver and Richmond (British Columbia), where they constitute the largest ethnic group by country, and one in five residents are Chinese.What is the most Chinese city in North America? ›
New York City is home to the largest Chinese-American population of any city proper, with over half a million.How much of Vancouver is owned by China? ›
One-Third Of Vancouver's Real Estate Market Is Owned By Chinese Buyers.Which is one of four most influential Chinese cuisines? ›
A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine but perhaps the best known and most influential are Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine (specifically Huaiyang cuisine) and Sichuan cuisine.
Cantonese cuisine is the most popular type of Chinese food worldwide. Many Chinese immigrants to the United States, Canada, Australia, Southeast Asia and Latin America were Cantonese. In sharp contrast to Sichuan cuisine, Cantonese food favors a light, fresh and tender taste and texture.What are the key influences of Chinese cuisine? ›
Its unique geographical environment, local produces and ingredients, local customs, cultural traditions, ethnic inheritance, and some of the popular local authentic flavors have played an important influence over the development of Chinese Cuisine as it is today.Which city has the most diverse cuisine? ›
The city boasts 94 national cuisines available, ranking it as the most diverse food scene in the world.
There are two major classifications of Chinese cuisines based on geographical locations and cooking styles. First up are those termed the Four Major Cuisines: Lu cuisine from Shandong province; Chuan cuisine from Sichuan; Yue cuisine from Guangdong; and Su cuisine from Jiangsu.How does cuisine contribute to cultural identity? ›
Food plays a significant role in shaping cultures. It reflects personal beliefs, values, and customs. For instance, some believe certain foods are sacred or that certain dishes can only be eaten under particular circumstances or holidays.What is the national dish of Vancouver? ›
Poutine. Poutine is the (unofficial) national dish of Canada.What food was invented in Vancouver? ›
The California roll contains crab, cucumber, avocado, rice, and seaweed. The California roll was created in 1971. It was invented by chef Tojo. This roll was invented in Vancouver, B.C.What is the food source in Vancouver? ›
78% of the provincial food supply flows to, from, through or within the region. Of the total food flows, 83% are offshore exports of grains, oil seeds, and legumes. 34% of the BC food supply is sourced from within the Province. 14% of the food produced in Metro Vancouver is consumed within the region.Why was Chinatown created in Vancouver? ›
Incorporated in1886, Vancouver became a major point of entry for new Chinese immigrants, many of whom settled in Vancouver's Chinatown. Chinese labourers were granted a 160-acre lease and built their settlement along Main Street at East Pender.When did Chinese migrate to Vancouver? ›
The launch of the North-West America at Nootka Sound, 1788. In 1788 Chinese workers landed in Nuu-chah-nulth territory. They were part of Captain John Meares' expedition to build the first year-round, non-indigenous settlement.
Vancouver's Chinatown was recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2011. One of Vancouver's oldest neighbourhoods, it is home to important cultural heritage assets and many community organizations with deep historical roots in Vancouver and Canada.Are there more Asians in Vancouver or Toronto? ›
Senior Member. Toronto has more of most Asian groups than Vancouver in numbers, with the exception of Japanese, of which Vancouver has the most in Canada.Which part of Canada has most Asians? ›
Over half (60.3 percent) of South Asian Canadians live in two metropolitan areas as of 2021; Greater Toronto and Metro Vancouver.Where is the largest Chinese community in Canada? ›
The Chinese Canadian community is the largest ethnic group of Asian Canadians, consisting approximately 40% of the Asian Canadian population. Most of them are concentrated within the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.Where is the biggest Chinese community in USA? ›
New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have the largest Chinese populations in the United States, and the Chinatowns in New York City are some of the largest Chinese enclaves outside of Asia.What US city has the largest Chinatown? ›
New York City
The Manhattan Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.
The Chinatown centered on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street in San Francisco, California, (Chinese: 唐人街; pinyin: tángrénjiē; Jyutping: tong4 jan4 gaai1) is the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of the largest Chinese enclaves outside Asia.Are Chinese still buying Vancouver real estate? ›
According to Juwai IQI, a n Asian real estate technology group, Vancouver is still popular with mainland and Hong Kong Chinese buyers, even though Canadian real estate inquiries collapsed to an all-time low in 2021's fourth quarter.Does Vancouver have the largest Chinatown? ›
Located on the eastern side of downtown Vancouver, the bustling district is North America's third largest Chinatown by population, after those in San Francisco and New York.Where does Vancouver get its money? ›
The Port of Vancouver supports 115,300 jobs in Canada and provides $1.4 billion a year in tax revenues. Vancouver's central area has 60% of the region's office space and is home to headquarters of forest products and mining companies as well as branches of national and international banks, accounting and law firms.
- Kung Pao Chicken.
- Sweet and Sour Pork.
- Peking Roast Duck.
- Mapo Tofu.
- Chow Mein.
- Chinese Hot Pot.
- Spring Rolls.
- Wonton Soup.
Sichuan Province produced the most widely served cuisine in China. Their dishes are famous for their hot-spicy taste and the numbing flavor of Sichuan peppercorn that is rare in other regional cuisines.What are the 7 cuisines of China? ›
- Lu (Shandong) CuisinE (鲁菜 – lǔ cài): ...
- Chuan (Sichuan) Cuisine (川菜 – chuāncài): ...
- Yue (Cantonese) Cuisine (粤菜 – yuècài): ...
- Su (Jiangsu) Cuisine (苏菜 – sū cài): ...
- Min (Fujian) Cuisine (闽菜 – mǐncài): ...
- Hui (Anhui) Cuisine (徽菜 – huī cài): ...
- Xiang (Hunan) Cuisine (湘菜 – xiāngcài):
Chengdu: The Capital of Chinese Gastronomy.Why is Chinese food so Americanized? ›
Beginning in the 1950s, Taiwanese immigrants replaced Cantonese immigrants as the primary labor force in American Chinese restaurants. These immigrants expanded American-Chinese cuisine beyond Cantonese cuisine to encompass dishes from many different regions of China as well as Japanese-inspired dishes.In what 3 ways did China influence culture? ›
Chinese culture influenced neighboring cultures' governments, social systems, and gender relationships. Confucianism, Buddhism, and the Chinese language and writing system had the most significant impacts. China's size and large population throughout history gave it influence across East Asia.Why is Chinese food important to its culture? ›
Food is an important part of daily life for Chinese people. Chinese not only enjoy eating but believe eating good food can bring harmony and closeness to the family and relationships. Shopping daily for fresh food is essential for all Chinese cooking.What are 3 influences from China? ›
Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are considered the “three pillars” of ancient Chinese society. As philosophies and religions, they not only influenced spirituality, but also government, science, the arts, and social structure.What's the food capital of the world? ›
Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, has been named the world's food capital by 2022 readers of the luxury travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveller.Which Canadian city has become one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world? ›
Toronto: Canada's most diverse city
It's nearly impossible to spend a day in Toronto without mixing with people from around the world.
Pondicherry. In Pondicherry, you will the find the perfect blend of South Indian cuisine with French Cuisine than any of the other Indian cities for food lovers.What makes Chinese cuisine different? ›
Most dishes are filled with huge quantities of vegetables, grass-fed meats, seafood and herbs and spices. Every ingredient is handpicked for medicinal purposes. The Chinese people rarely eat canned/frozen food. Steamed, braised, and stir-fried – home cooked Chinese meals are nutrient dense and low in fat.Which cuisine is the most influential Chinese regional cuisine? ›
Although it is less available in the West, Shandong cuisine is often considered one of the most influential styles of cooking in the Chinese culinary history.
Guangdong Cuisine (better known as Cantonese)
Perhaps the most familiar type of Chinese cuisine internationally due to many waves of Chinese emigration, Cantonese food hails from the southern Guangdong province – easily enjoyed in cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
People also connect to their cultural or ethnic group through food patterns. Food is often used as a means of retaining their cultural identity. People from different cultural backgrounds eat different foods. The areas in which families live and where their ancestors originated influence food like and dislikes.How local cuisine affects cultural tourism? ›
The local foods motivate the first-time visitors by giving them a first impression and leaving them with a desire to re-visit in the future. The tourists will find various cultural experiences that are original and authentic to increase their cultural capital (Chang, et al., 2010).How does cooking increase cultural awareness? ›
Food is a great unifier; it can connect people from different backgrounds and experiences. Food tells a story about who people are and where they come from. It bridges nationalities, geographies, and generations.What American city has the best Chinese food? ›
It sits a little higher than New York City in terms of customer satisfaction, with a 54% 4-star or higher rating as of 2021. On our data index, San Francisco is the top-rated city to find Asian cuisine, with an index score of 1.00 and a total score of 3.18.What city in Canada has the most Chinese? ›
The five metropolitan areas with the largest Chinese-Canadian populations are the Greater Toronto Area (631,050), Metro Vancouver (474,655), Greater Montreal (89,400), Calgary Region (89,675) and the Edmonton Metropolitan Region (60,200).What food is unique to BC? ›
British Columbia food often means amazingly fresh seafood. Wild sockeye salmon in particular, fished from the surrounding fresh waters of the Northern Pacific and the rivers discharged from it, is one of Victoria's signature food.
- Hand-pulled cut noodles with cumin Lamb & salt fried chicken from Legendary Noodle.
- Pineapple buns and Milk Tea from El Lido.
- Fish & Chips from Pajo's Fish and Chips.
- Guu with Garlic (Japanese food)
- Ramen from Ramen Danbo.
- New Town.
- Hawkers Delight.
- Neopolitan Style Pizza from Honeybee.
Vancouver is quite a food city, with an abundance of Asian-inspired flavors, seafood of the Pacific Northwest, and Canadian specialties. Food defines the city and the mixing pot of cultural influences you'll find there.What is BC First Nation food? ›
- Salmon: Sockeye, Chinook, Chum, Pink, Coho.
- Groundfish: Pacific Cod, Black cod, Ling cod, Rockfish.
- Flatfish: Sole, Flounder, Halibut.
- Small fish: Eulachon, Herring, Herring Roe.
- Trout: Dolly Varden, Lake, Rainbow, Steelhead, Cutthroat,
- Whitefish: Northern Pike, Walleye, Burbot, Arctic Grayling.
Poutine. Known as Canada's national dish, poutine is a French-Canadian meal featuring three ingredients: fries, cheese curds, and gravy.What city has the best Chinatown? ›
New York City, NY
As a major part of NYC's food culture, you'll find excellent restaurants in Chinatown representing the cuisine of virtually every province of mainland China and Hong Kong, plus Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese eateries.
The Manhattan Chinatown contains the largest concentration of ethnic Chinese in the Western hemisphere, and the Flushing Chinatown in Queens has become the world's largest Chinatown, though it has also emerged as the epicenter of organized prostitution in the United States.Where is the largest Chinatown outside of China? ›
San Francisco, California, United States of America
San Francisco has the largest Chinese community outside Asia, so it makes sense that its Chinatown is so big and beautiful. Right in the center of the city, the neighborhood spans more than a mile and is home to a mix of temples, shops, markets, and bakeries.
European Canadian: 46.2% Chinese: 27.7% South Asian: 6% Filipino: 6%
Chinatown is a neighbourhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is Canada's largest Chinatown.What is the biggest Chinatown in Canada? ›
Vancouver's Chinatown is the largest in Canada. Dating back to the late 19th century, the main focus of the older Chinatown is Pender Street and Main Street in downtown Vancouver, which is also, along with Victoria's Chinatown, one of the oldest surviving Chinatowns in North America.