The Richmond BC Dumpling Trail
A sense of place and taste never forgotten
By: Linda Kissam
Dumplings are beloved worldwide as a perfect blank canvas for all sorts of ingredients. These bite-sized morsels satisfy like nothing else. As the saying goes, the hard part is knowing when to stop eating – but more about that part and where to actually experience the best dumplings, later.
A short history of the dumpling
There are many tales of how the dumpling came to be. My favorite fanciful one features a sort of philanthropist name Zhang Zhongjing. Zhang lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty 1800 years ago. It is reported that Zhang noticed many people’s ears were frostbitten in his hometown one particularly bad winter. He decided to wrap mutton, chili and some warming medicinal herbs in dough skin. Folding them into the shape of an ear, he boiled them in water before giving them to the poor. All the materials used in Zhang’s recipe helped warm the body, promote blood flow thus thawing the cold ears. The dumplings also had a wonderful taste so everyone loved them. This dumpling was originally called “Jiao’er” for its shape, and later the name morphed into Jiaozi.
What is a dumpling?
Most would agree that a dumpling refers to a portion of dough or batter that is usually steamed or boiled. However, it can also be fried or baked. It can be a batter or dough rolled out that is cooked by itself or filled with anything from meat to fruit to cheese to vegetables. It can be a main dish, side dish or dessert. In Japan a similar dumpling is called Gyoza.
Get to know your stuffing
Each stuffing has a meaning.
Celery stuffing represents wealth. It also represents a wish for the family to be in good health, harmony, joy and happiness
Cabbage represents the blessing for a well-off life for a hundred years
Mushroom is the talisman for increasing wealth and luck.
Fish represents surplus wealth.
Beef stuffing represents strong economic growth. The bull symbolizes strength, and is favored by stock investors. Think …”Bull market.”
Dumplings are ordered in traditionally bamboo trays. So you can say yī lóng (一笼 /ee-long/ ‘one tray’. Popular fillings include the standard minced beef, cabbage, garlic and chives. The number of dumplings in each tray varies by size of dumpling and restaurant offerings. Getting several types to sample at one time is a good way to go. Dumpling tasting is a social event. Relax, take your time, chat.
Typically one more dish is ordered than there are people eating. This often leaves food spare – but that’s a bonus in my opinion. The Chinese custom is always to order too much to show generosity and hospitality. A dish per person is usually enough. There is a Chinese superstition about the number 4, as it sounds like the word for death in Chinese, so four dishes are seldom ordered. Likewise in the Canton area seven dishes are seldom ordered as it is a custom there to eat seven dishes the day after a funeral. Largely such customs are ignored now apart from on special occasions, and Westerners would certainly not be expected to follow them.
Try ordering a range of different dishes if there are a number of people eating, including different types of meats and vegetables. Soup/broth is a customary starter in China. Dim Sum is the perfect vehicle to trying a wide variety of dishes. Sweet desserts are not a tradition in China, but the caramelized banana/apple or steamed buns with condensed milk dip are available at many restaurants and are delicious.
And finally – most people enjoy eating with the chopsticks provided…however if you haven’t quite the coordination for that utensil, ask for a fork. Your host just wants you to enjoy yourself. No judging going on, I promise.
Where to enjoy the best dumplings in North America
For those of us living or visiting North America, Richmond BC comes to mind as THE quintessential place to try authentic Chinese, Korean and Japanese dumplings. Just an hour and a half from the Washington State border and 20 minutes from the Vancouver airport the smart smart smart Visit Richmond BC people have created a Dumpling Trail (complete with map and photos and videos) of all the dumpling yum you could ever imagine or crave.
I recently spent two days there sampling 12 categories of dumplings. That’s about a hundred different kinds of authentic creative dumplings and other sides. It’s easy. Just rent a room at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel (which is actually in the downtown Richmond area) and you are set to go. You can easily walk from the hotel to over half of the 20 recommended spots. The rest you can drive or cab to. Each spot represents a unique experience. No two stops will be alike. You’ll find everything from mom and pop to large showcase type places. English is spoken everywhere. It is safe to walk anywhere.
Just plan your sampling event from 10 am to 2 pm. The group I toured with was a party of five. Our total bill for each stop was under $72. That’s about $12 per person at each sitting for the best foodie experience of your life. Bring cash, although some (not all) take credit cards.
Whether you enjoy your dumplings crispy, chewy, pan fired, boiled, meatless, floating in soup or sizzling on a cast iron skillet, this trail is where you’re going to find the most authentic Chinese food in North America. If you have only one day to find the best – try the following: Dim Sum Brunch at Empire Seafood Restaurant, lunch at Samsoonie Noodle & Rice and dinner at Golden Sichuan Restaurant.