Gung Hay Fat Choy! [caption id="attachment_8358" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Year of the Dragon"] [/caption] Festival cities are curious places. You know, those towns and cities which draw mega crowds for a stellar annual festival but when that particular event is over, well, there's not a lot to do. Party's over. It it's time to go home folks. I remember spending a November weekend in Stratford, Ontario, home of one of the world's' most prestigious Shakespeare Festivals and one of my favourite getaways during the summer and early fall, and it felt like a ghost town. It wouldn't have surprised me to see tumbleweed bouncing down the barren windswept streets on the heels of a ghostly MacBeth. But some cities keep the party going - year-round. Take Richmond, British Columbia, for instance, which is in the midst of hosting an exciting roster of events to celebrate Chinese New Year, including 12-course banquets (Peking duck two-ways, Pan-fried tiger prawns, fried live crab, sticky rice, shredded jellyfish, bean curd roll, braised bamboo shoots), dance performances, concerts, dragon festivals and prayer ceremonies at the Buddhist temple. But if you're not in the Richmond area within the next few weeks, don't despair, the city's flourishing Asian heritage is an integral part of the cultural (and physical) landscape life every day of the year. [caption id="attachment_8370" align="aligncenter" width="281" caption="Traditional Chinese dance performance (Courtesy: Richmond Tourism)"] [/caption] If you're on a driving trip that takes you through British Columbia or if you're in Vancouver for a family vacation, take a short side trip to Richmond (and I mean short - you can get there in 20 minutes from Vancouver) and devote a few days to exploring British Columbia's fourth-largest city. Somewhere between 60 and 65% of Richmond's 200,000-strong populace is of Asian decent, with citizens of Chinese ancestry accounting for 47%. This wonderful mix of Asian influences is evident in the restaurants, stores, festivals, cultural attractions as well as the music and languages you hear in the streets of Richmond. And on the food front? I hear echoes of any Asian country I've visited. Chinese dim sum, Korean twist potato, Japanese takoyaki balls, Filipino talent shows, Chinese karaoke contests, beautiful statues of Buddha, dragon dances, xiao long bao (soup dumplings)... [caption id="attachment_8377" align="aligncenter" width="360" caption="Richmond, B.C. offers a year-round buffet of Asian food from China, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Malaysia..."] [/caption] I'm certainly not the first scribe to insist that the best way to get to know the culture of any place is to ramble (preferably with an empty stomach - so skip the western-style buffet in your hotel or mountain of waffles served in your B&B). Just hit the street and bring an empty sack or knapsack because you will do some serious shopping. 1. The Golden Village: [caption id="attachment_8352" align="aligncenter" width="360" caption="There are more than 200 Asian restaurants and eateries in Richmond, B.C.'s Golden Village"] [/caption] First-timers to Richmond typically get one bit of advice: head to Alexandra Road, known locally as Food Street. You'll be in the heart of The Golden Village:. Within a four-block radius of the Golden Village, near No. 3 Road, you can choose from more than 300 shops, three Hong Kong-inspired malls, Asian specialty grocery stores, electronic outlets, jewelry stores, art galleries, stores dedicated to Asian designer fashions, and no fewer than 200 restaurants. One of my Hong Kong-born neighbours in Toronto tells me the Golden Village in Richmond reminds her of home. 2. Aberdeen Centre [caption id="attachment_8372" align="aligncenter" width="360" caption="Dragon Dance at Aberdeen Centre Mall"] [/caption] The humungous, glass-panelled Aberdeen Center mall (4151 Hazelbridge Way) is the place to go whether you're shopping for a Ferrari, Fazioli piano or food. Seasoned or neophyte bargain shoppers can lose themselves Daiso, a Japanese emporium bursting with housewares, cosmetics, clothes, garden tools, with many priced around the $2 mark. There are frequent cultural exhibits and, depending on the day, you can catch some live Asian entertainment, as well. When you've shopped your feet off, and it's time to satisfy that rumbling tummy, head up to the third floor where you'll find a food court that seats 800. Nosh your way through Wo Fun’s famous Chicken Wings, Shanghainese meals, pho... If you're in the mood for a proper sit-down, you're in the right place. Two Vancouverite friends are effusive about the Beijing-style Shredded Pork at Northern Delicacy and the crab claw balls at Fishermen’s Terrace. [caption id="attachment_8348" align="aligncenter" width="360" caption="Dishware, collectibles, clothes, jewellery...you can buy almost anything at the Aberdeen Centre"] [/caption] A bonus for visitors: Aberdeen Centre offers a special Tourist Program for out-of-towners (you could even bag a free gift!) Two other (smaller) malls to check out: Yahoan Centre and Parker Place. 3. International Buddhist Temple [caption id="attachment_8350" align="aligncenter" width="360" caption="International Buddhist Temple, Richmond, British Columbia"] [/caption] Burning incense, golden Buddha statues, ornamental fountains and manicured gardens are the lure for visitors to the International Buddhist Temple. Located on Steveston Highway, it's the second-largest Buddhist temple in North America, and is said to rank among the best examples of Chinese temple construction outside mainland China. Each year, on New Year’s morning, the temple hosts a prayer ceremony and a vegetarian lunch for as many as 10,000 people. 4. Best restaurants? [caption id="attachment_8376" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Mouth-watering Peking Duck (Courtesy: Bluetofu)"] [/caption] If time is tight, I share with you a trio of Asian restaurants to try. There are three that seem to crop up in the Top 5 Faves of my informal poll of West Coast gourmands and foodies: • Executive Chef Tony Luk of Jade Seafood Restaurant won Chef of the Year at HSBC Chinese Restaurant Awards. His winning dishes included Sauteed Geoduck with Egg Whites and Italian Herbs; Drunken Free-Run Chicken with Yunnan Wild Morel Mushroom Sauce. •The Shanghai pork dumpling is a perpetual favourite at Shanghai River. • A colleague based in West Vancouver regularly makes the trek to Richmond for the Beijing-style Shredded Pork at Northern Delicacy. I'm always on the lookout for great Asian eateries anywhere in Canada? Got one in your area? Post below and let me know. Gung Hay Fat Choy.