Richmond Abounds with Culture and Flavor Culture, dining and leisure – these are but a few of the pleasures that await on a trip to Richmond, B.C. Located on Canada’s West Coast, in Metro Vancouver, Richmond is only 25 minutes from the U.S border and is the location of Metro Vancouver’s international airport. The population is 65 percent Asian, and it is touted as a trip to the Orient, without the jetlag.
On my recent visit, I had the opportunity to see just what this lovely city has to offer. I traveled with a small group, arriving from various parts of the U.S., with the common goal of packing as much fun and information – and food – as we could into two days. I checked in to the Delta Vancouver Airport hotel, located near the Fraser River. It has lovely views, nice rooms and free Wi-Fi. They also have a nice restaurant, Pier 73, and they are the closest hotel to the airport, with free shuttle to and from.
Others in our group stayed at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, known to locals as the “Richmond Inn.” We all got a guided tour to take in all that it has to offer. It was built in 1973 and then rebranded as Sheraton in 2009, when it was completely renovated from the concrete slab up. They keep environmental responsibility at the forefront by reducing waste by 70 percent through composting. And, be sure to stop by Harold’s Bistro, named for the hotel’s “best customer ever,” the 92-year-old has had lunch there every day for the past 35 years according to our tour guide! The pool is open year-round, and they even have a liquor store … just don’t combine the two! Another big perk is that you can walk to 20 different restaurants, a mall and the Richmond Olympic Oval, the site for the long-track speed skating competition during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The Olympic Oval was built for the purpose of becoming an expansive fitness center for area residents. For two weeks during the 2010 Winter Games, it was used for that, then went back to being what I would call the most impressive fitness center I’ve ever seen. “We are the center of health and wellness for the community,” said Aran Kay, program manager and our guide for the tour. The Oval has two ice rinks, six hardwood courts, a track for running and much more. They offer all of the usual fitness machines, competitive sports, and the facility is used regularly by professional athletes. For $16, Canadian, you can drop in for a day and take advantage.
While in Richmond, you must see historic Steveston … so charming! Originally a small town of its own, it was eventually absorbed by Richmond. It was once the busiest salmon canning center in the world, with 16 canneries in operation at its peak. Steveston is located at the mouth of the Fraser River, on the southwest tip of Lulu Island. Although Steveston is still the busiest fishing port in all of Canada, none of the canneries are in operation today, with the last closing in 1993. They have maintained one of the canneries as a museum, paying tribute to the years of hard work and dedication that contributed so much to what the town has become. We had a chance to take the guided tour, $7.80, and well worth it.
The canning was seasonal, and the rest of the year was spent making the cans. Our colorful tour guide said that “in the old days you could cross the river on the backs of the salmon; that’s how plentiful they were.” While in this fishing mecca, you must have some seafood. We had lunch at the Tapenade Bistro … delightful, with an emphasis an presentation, and the view is hard to beat. Wonderful restaurants with outdoor seating are plentiful along the dock. Be sure to visit the charming shops in Steveston, where we discovered “bubble tea” for the first time. This popular Chinese drink is very interesting, but may be a challenge for those picky about texture. The “bubbles” are actually bits of tapioca. You can try it sweet or savory, hot or cold, with or without milk, in a multitude of flavors.
Several boats are available during the summer months for pleasure cruises and also for whale watching. They even guarantee that if you don’t see a whale, you get a return ticket free. Richmond has a lot of well-planned green space. Inside one of the city parks, Terra Nova, is a lovely community garden managed by Ian Lai, who is a chef, teacher, environmentalist, weaver, and hobby beekeeper. We got an up-close-and-personal tour of the bee hives and even got to taste some of the freshly retrieved honey … yum! For dinner we ate at the River Rock Casino. Aside from the casino, they have a lovely restaurant, 396 guest rooms, a theater and a marina. We were treated to a six-course meal … I couldn’t quite make it through them all but it was fun trying! Chef Robert Mahay uses a specialty produce provider and arranges his menu around fresh and unique, seasonal produce.
Food was definitely a main attraction on the trip and one of the highlights was trying Dim Sum. I learned that rather than a dish, Dim Sum is a Cantonese style of food, served in snack-sized portions. The tea however, was the focus. The first thing you’ll be asked is, “What kind of tea would you like?” We decided to defer to our guide and the Dim Sum experience was a treat. I learned that to let the wait staff know you need more hot water for tea, you just tilt the lid on the teapot. Then there was Alexander Road, aka “Food Street.” Here you’ll find 200 restaurants in three city blocks. It’s like when Templeton on “Charlotte’s Web” visits the fair, so be sure to pace yourself. Japadog is a popular Japanese hot dog stand there that you may want to include if you plan a day of sampling the bounty on Food Street … lots of fun!
There is no way I could talk about the food in Richmond and not mention the Shanghai River Restaurant. That’s where I tried what may well be the best savory dish I’ve ever tasted. Xiao Long Bao are succulent dumplings stuffed with tender pork and an amazing buttery broth … indescribable! You can watch as the noodles are made and the dumplings are stuffed and hand-crimped through the glass wall that allows a great view of the food preparation area. We sat near the kitchen and ogled all the amazing dishes is they made their way to diners, wishing there was a way to taste each one. To help work off some of that great food, you can spend a day shopping. Richmond has three malls, one considered more “Westernized” than the other two, but they all seemed very Chinese to me. We visited Daiso the Chinese equivalent of a dollar store in one, where you can find just about anything you can think of. It was like a galleria for the thrifty shopper. We also saw a toilet store where the unique thrones came with remote controls with a multitude of functions … very amusing!
If shopping is a passion, Richmond can certainly satisfy and intrigue. No tour of Richmond would be complete without a tour of the city’s renowned “Highway to Heaven.” Located on the city’s No. 5 Road is a row of more than 20 religious institutions. Richmond is home to two of the largest Buddhist temples in North America, the International Buddhist Temple and the Ling Yen Mountain Temple. You can see these as well as other temples, mosques and churches. Migration has changed the face of this as well as other Canadian cities, and here many different religions co-exist in harmony.
To plan the perfect trip to Richmond, visit tourismrichmond.com. Planning a Richmond dining adventure? There’s a guide for that 365 days, 365 restaurants, 365 blog posts – that makes for, you guessed it, 365 recommendations for great dining experiences in Richmond. With the Richmond Foodie Blogger completing her 365 consecutive days of dining and blogging, Tourism Richmond enlisted her expertise to create Richmond’s “The Best of 365” dining guide. Visitors can pick up a copy at Richmond hotels or at the Tourism Richmond Visitor Centre to discover the hidden gems, the must-eats and the most memorable dishes and experiences from a year of daily dining in one of North America’s hottest foodie destinations. The dining guide is a handy compilation of 10 of blogger Lindsay Anderson’s top 10 ‘best of’ lists including dim sum, bakeries, Chinese and noodles along with restaurant coupons and dining in Richmond tips.