With my first taste of xiao long bao, I fall a little in love.
I carefully take a bite of the soup dumpling’s tender wrapping, then a sip of the fragrantly steamy broth inside, before popping the whole bundle of dough, soup and pork filling into my mouth. It is rich, savoury, subtle—and totally addictive. I sigh out loud, it’s that good. And then I reach for another one, and another.
Xiao long bao—pronounced shah-long-bow and often shortened to XLB—is just one of the tasty little bites to be savoured along the recently launched Dumpling Trail in Richmond, B.C. This walkable, self-guided tour travels from food court to strip mall to opulent banquet hall—20 delicious stops and soon to be more throughout the community’s gleaming urban centre.
Xiao Long Bao; Photo credit: Tourism Richmond
There is some seriously good eating to be had on this route. It has been said that Richmond has the best Chinese food outside of China; some claim it has the world’s best Chinese food, period. That’s because about half the population of this island city in the Fraser River is of Chinese background, attracting some of the world’s best chefs from a variety of culinary traditions. Today, Richmond is home to some 400 Asian restaurants, many of them located along the three blocks of Alexandra Road, better known simply as “Food Street.”
Whether you’re strolling along Food Street or beyond it, the options for authentic Chinese dishes in Richmond are almost overwhelming. You can dine on sweet Hong Kong-style pineapple buns filled with creamy slabs of butter, spicy Szechuan dandan noodles, savoury Taiwanese green onion pancakes, gingery Hainanese chicken, bottomless cauldrons of steamy hot pot, all the favourites of Cantonese cuisine (rice and noodles and stir-fried seafood, succulent barbecued pork, crispy spring rolls, umami-rich sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves) and, of course, dumplings galore.
Sui Mai; Photo credit: Tourism Richmond
One of the very best dumplings to try is the truffle-topped siu mai at Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant in Empire Centre Mall, which is not technically on the Dumpling Trail, but still a must-visit. This is a dazzling spot, always with a lineup outside and, inside, glittering with crystal chandeliers, neon columns and mirrored walls that hide private dining rooms where wealthy businesspeople order bottle after bottle of pricy Bordeaux.
Dim sum, the morning meal of small bites, is an epic journey here, and its ultimate destination is the siu mai. Pronounced “shoo-my,” it is among the most ubiquitous of the steamed dumplings. A thin yellow wrapper cradles a filling of pork and shrimp, usually topped with salty roe, except at Chef Tony, where it is adorned with a decadent dollop of earthy truffle.
Just as popular as siu mai is har gow, another steamed dumpling widely enjoyed during dim sum at restaurants like Empire Seafood and Shiang Garden. A pure white, almost translucent tapioca starch dough is wrapped around plump, pink shrimp; its mild flavour is even better with a touch of XO sauce, the spicy concoction of dried seafood and chilies considered China’s “magic condiment.”
Har Gow; Photo credit: Tourism Richmond
Then there are sweet dumplings, like jian dui, a chewy, rice-flour pastry coated with sesame seeds and stuffed with red bean paste; deep-fried dumplings, like the pork-filled croquettes called ham siu gok; boiled dumplings called shui jiao, which can be filled with pork, prawns, mushrooms or vegetables; pan-fried potstickers known as gui tie; and, of course, classic wontons, which can be steamed, boiled, fried, served in soup or drenched in hot sauce.
Shui Jiao; Photo credit: Tourism Richmond
But me, I’m heading back on the Dumpling Trail for more xiao long bao, Shanghai’s greatest culinary export. In Richmond, debate is heated over which dumpling chef makes the thinnest soup dumpling dough, the most delicate broth and the most flavourful filling—and whether the best XLB can be found at the humble R&H Chinese Food stall in the Lansdowne Centre food court or the fancy Su Hang Restaurant.
There’s only one way to find out.
For more information, or to download your guide to the Dumpling Trail, go to