Big Dumplings in Little China


Oh, Canada…

It’s hard to write about your homeland.


I’ve spent decades honing my skills at describing places from the perspective of an outsider looking in. It helps to not fully understand what’s going on, or if I actually do know what’s going on, to be just observing from the sidelines and playing dumb. It allows for pithy comments and a reckless degree of hyperbole that you could never get away with when delving into the seamlessly familiar.

How much can I say about, for example, the curious tendency of convenience stores and gas stations here to offer coffee and banana combos?  No semi automatic weapons, no Slurpees the size of a lapdog, no sex toys at toddler height (hello Shanghai!), no chilled individual cans of Bud Light at the gas station cash register (I’m looking at you, Missouri!). Just a small coffee and a banana.

Or a large coffee and a banana, if you wish to supersize it, BC style.

Welcome back to Canada.

Luckily, one of my friends in Vancouver invited us to join her for the Richmond Night Market’s final weekend of 2013 over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

A Chinese night market! Hooray!

If you live in China, you may have heard of Richmond via a post on the Shanghaiist a few months ago that got quite a few panties in a knot and sent people howling. Reportedly, a mainland Chinese woman was furious because she was refused service in a McDonalds there because either her accent was too heavy or her English was too limited or both or neither. I forget which, but I do remember noting how curious the whole situation was.

I mean seriously, Richmond?

To quote the Wikipedia article on the place:

Richmond has an immigrant population of 60%, the highest in Canada.[2] Richmond has 50% of residents identifying as Chinese, the city in North America with the largest proportion of Asians.[7] More than half of its population is of Asian descent, many of whom immigrated in the early 1990s, mostly from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China.

Chinese accents are not exactly unfamiliar territory in Richmond. In many parts of Richmond, English is bordering on unfamiliar territory. Signs there tend to be either bilingual or entirely in Chinese characters, both trad and simplified.

Here are the demographics, in case you were curious:



Yes, exactly 35 Inuit live in Richmond.


This, by the way, makes for an awesome food scene.



Here be dragons. And baozi.


When we came back to Vancouver from the UK  in August and had to crash at a motel out in the middle of nowhere because our flight got in too late to catch a ferry back to the island, the nearest Vancouver suburb was Richmond and oh, how my Foursquare nearby-restaurant listings brimmed over with tantalizing options. Unfortunately, we had no car and Vancouver being what it is (sprawling, with crappy public transport outside the center), the xiaolongbao and hotpot and jellyfish delights lay just out of reach- nothing was nearer than 4km away, along the dark, semi rural highways of Delta.

We shared an iceberg lettuce-based faux Thai salad in the near-empty motel restaurant, sipped glasses of tap water filled with too many ice cubes, then went up to bed and slept. Being North America, there was an ice machine down the hall working overtime, presumably to satisfy the restaurant patrons’ voracious appetite for chilled tap water.

After leaving Shanghai in July, my thoughts had turned to matters of, say, cheese. And bread. And pierogies. Four and a half years in China had left me with a few very specific unfulfilled cravings that I had to work on before I could start to nostalgically yearn for the likes of lamian and lotus root.


Street poutine

Like poutine, from a truck.


And huevos rancheros


And fish tacos with mango-habanero salsa and cajun fries


However, by the time my friend sent out the invitation to the Richmond Night Market in early October, I was ready.

Well, ready for the dumplings at least.

I had forgotten about the largesse of all things Chinese. The crowds. The crazy inflatable cartoon mascots.

The duck.

The giant whacked-out duck was everywhere, smiling. I bet it killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die.



Ah Qingdao. 5 months into pregnancy and I even miss your tepid beer.



Seriously, this duck is several storeys high.


Anyway. The night market. It’s located just outside the Bridgeport Skytrain Station, on the Canada Line. Just follow the million bright lights, the hordes of Chinese youth, and the plethora of giant inflatable ducks. You can’t miss it. It costs 2 bucks to get in.

Once you’re in, bypass the many mobile phone case stalls and the Korean coloured contact lens booths and head toward the back where the food stalls are.

We started with the mega dumplings. Seriously, these were huge. They came in leek-pork-egg, leek-egg, and what the stall dude (who was from Fuzhou, by the way) initially described as being kimchi but which he later admitted were suān cài (酸菜). Condiments at hand were Japanese soy sauce in a squirt bottle and Sriracha hot sauce. When we asked if he happened to have any vinegar or lajiao, he looked momentarily startled before blurting out, ‘but westerners like to put soy sauce on everything!’



Despite the lack of vinegar, they were lovely. They were also 3 for $6. Sticker shock, folks.


Aside from the dozens of stalls selling variations on bubble tea and ramen noodles, there was also the reassuring presence of roughly chopped body parts and internal organs.  The octopus tentacles poking up from the brim of a paper cup brought back fond memories, as did the steam tray of offal. At least this offal was served hot. I ate my way through many a cold offal snack plate at school banquets.



Hot offal!


There was also the málàtàng (麻辣烫) stall, which was given an entirely different name on the English sign above it. While the soup maker was focused intently on getting the little colanders full of processed meat products carefully immersed into the spicy broth, Michael (the fellow I happen to have recently married) casually asked the man in Mandarin if this was indeed málàtàng and he replied, ‘shì de (是的)’, yup, it is. Then he looked up, saw the very white, English face, and did a double take.



Alas, no greengrocer’s shelves full of leafy green options for the soup, nor skewers of rice cake and lotus.


And then there was the stall going by the name Xi’anBurgers, which actually sold $5 ròu jīa mó (肉夹馍) and $6 bowls of liángpí (凉皮) that were inexplicably available in both hot and cold versions for English language customers only (liáng, I should note, means cold,  so liángare inherently chilled thin noodles, or pí–skin). 

Don’t do as I did during my first few months in Shanghai, ordering  liáng pì (屁), which just gets you a funny look and an order of cold farts. 



Not the 4 kuai ones I used to get outside Nanjing’s Dong Nan university


I will admit, however, that I was very nearly ready to spend $7 on two measly baozi, simply because they were shaped like pigs and hedgehogs. How could you go wrong with a hedgehog baozi? Breakfast of champions!



Yes, we have no donkey today



I wonder what they are thinking.



It was odd trying to eat chao mian with a fork and shao mai (烧卖) with a solitary skewer


Standing outside one of the many cramped mobile phone cover stalls, bellies full of noodles and dumplings, waiting for our friends to emerge with their non-HelloKitty purchases, watching the massive throngs ease past us in the cold, slightly foggy night, I realized that I had (briefly) forgotten that I was back in Canada. It felt, remarkably, utterly, comfortingly familiar.  For a moment, we could have been back in China. And that was fine. I hadn’t expected that.



Hey there, Kitty…


We emerged, bursting our seams, sometime after 10pm, having worked our way through nibblings of everything from spicy korean rice cakes to deep fried milk.

You heard me: deep fried milk.

This is a thing, y’all. Seriously.

That was one thing lacking in Shanghai. Probably for the best.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.