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My Cheap Trip to China In North America

October 12, 2016

dumpling_trail_4cc25c9d-4319-4e39-8824-7c9a645ca21aLike most people, the Cheap Bastard loves a good road trip, especially one to a foreign and exotic destination, but he always thought going somewhere like China was too expensive.

Until recently, that is.

That’s when I decided to go on the Dumpling Trail in Richmond, BC.

That’s right. Richmond, BC.

When most people think of the town just south of Vancouver, they think of it as home to Vancouver International Airport…if they think of it at all.

What most people don’t know is that the city is home to a large slice of Vancouver’s Asian population and, as a result, it’s also home to some of the best Asian restaurants this side of China. As the people at Tourism Richmond put it, it’s like going to China, only cheaper. And after having been there, I have to agree.

In fact, one three block area of Alexandra Street alone boasts more than 200 Asian restaurants. That doesn’t mean they’re stacked one on top of the other in anonymous, overcrowded, multi-floor buildings. Instead, they’re in walkable strip mall style buildings in a completely walkable neighborhood. The cuisines run the range from Chinese and Japanese to Thai and Vietnamese. There’s bubble waffles and bubble tea.

The best part is, thanks to the favorable exchange rate, it’s INCREDIBLY CHEAP! All it takes is a tank of gas to get there and you can get good sized dishes starting at $5Canadian (that’s around $3.97US).

As much as many of us like Asian food, the Cheap Bastard understands that going to authentic ethnic restaurants can be a bit daunting. There are, after all, so many options, so many things we may not recognize and so many descriptions that aren’t as helpful as we’d like. Fortunately, Richmond has two options that make the trip easier and tastier.

The first, Tourism Richmond’s Dumpling Trail, provides an easy entry into Asian cuisine because almost every cuisine has a dumpling in its repetoire. Italians have ravioli, Eastern Europeans have piroshki and pelmeni and Americans have Hot Pockets.

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Mandu, Korean dumplings, at Samsoonie Noodle and Rice. Believe it or not, this dish is $8.99 Canadian or $6.78US

The Dumpling Trail features 15 restaurants including Samsoonie Noodle and Rice, Dinesty Dumpling House, Xi’an Cuisine and 4 Stones Vegetarian Restaurant.

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Dumplings at Xi’an in the Richmond Public Market Food Court

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Hand-tossed noodles at Xi’an

Because I don’t eat pork or shellfish, my options were rather limited when I went on a tour with Tourism Richmond’s Lesley Chang, but I was able to enjoy amazing wonton (as well as Kung Pao Chicken and Ma Pao Tofu) at 4 Stones Vegetarian and beef dumplings at Xi’an Cuisine.

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Gyoza at 4 Stones Vegetarian Restaurant

The cool thing about the Dumpling Trail is that it’s a low risk way to try cuisine you’ve been curious about without spending a lot of money. After all, if you don’t like one dumpling, you’re only out about $4US (and I liked every one that I tried). And if you do like what you try, well, you’ve now found an easy way into a once unfamiliar cuisine.

Don’t stay too long or eat too much at one place, though, because the dishes can be surprisingly filling. Despite their seeing small size, these Asian tapas can fill you up fast.

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Making dumplings at Richmond food court

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Go ahead, I dare you to try and get to more than five restaurants without running out of steam.

In fact, you may want to pace yourself, take some time off and head to a mall like Aberdeen Center where you can pop in and out of a variety of non-chain stores. My favorite was the toilet store where I saw this ….

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Once you’ve rested up, you can try a few places for dinner before heading home. Or you can stay over night and start again in the morning with dim sum.

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Another great, cheap adventure is the Richmond Night Market, which runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from spring through early fall, closing Oct. 10th. It’s just $3.25 Canadian to get in and there’s a world of inexpensive street food that opens up before you. Dim sum, skewers, Bi Bim Bap, Barbecue, Potato Stacks, exotic drinks. I spent less than $40 even after you include retail purchases and left so stuffed I had a food hangover the next morning.

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Barbecue Man

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The Barbecue Man his ownself

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Three skewers for $8

I started at the Barbecue Man and got a beef skewer, a chicken skewer and a lamb skewer for $8 Canadian ($6US). From there I went to Fishsticks right next door where I had a large fish cake on a stick with spicy mayonnaise for $6 ($4.50 US). A source at Richmond Tourism also suggested getting a mac and cheese Roti at Mamak La, but the roti had bacon in it.

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Putting the finish touches on a fish stick.

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My monster fish stick from Fish Sticks!

This is where I met my downfall. After standing in lines and seeing people with funky colorful drinks with lights in them, I went to Virgin Drinks and got a sour apple frozen cocktail with ice lights in it for $7 ($5.30). It’s not that it was bad, its just that it was a big drink that turned into a gut bomb taking up way too much space in my stomach, leaving me more full than I wanted because there were so many things I still wanted to try.

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A row of virgins (Virgin Cocktails, that is)

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Another Virgin (Cocktail)

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My cocktail

So, I bided my time by wandering up and down the retail aisles where the options ranged from toys and electronic chachkes to housewares.

I’m not sure why, but one of the big sellers are Korean socks. It could be in part because of the price. Although they typically sell five pair for $10, by the end of the evening some of the stands were selling them for $1 a pair. I bought a pair for each of my kids and one for me.

I also watched some of the live entertainment and checked out the fake dinosaurs that are part of this year’s theme.

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Run for your life, dinosaur on the loose in Richmond.

Then it was back to the food. Since the drink still sat heavy in my stomach, I could only find room for bubble waffles with chocolate—a tasty dish indeed.

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Bubble Waffles

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I couldn’t resist. This sign just made me laugh.

If not for the drink and the fact that it was almost 11, I would have gotten more. Heck, I even would climb into the zorb ball in the wading pool.

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I’ve always wanted to be in a Zorb ball. Too bad I saw it so late.

Oh well. There’s always next year, but the dumpling trail is available all year round.

Until then, I’ll dream of these…..

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Potatoes on a stick….yum!

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