Dumplings For Beginners: Chinatown Guide

It’s four-thirty on a Friday afternoon, as I shove my way off of a crowded bus and step into the cool, damp street in Vancouver’s charming and heavily fragrant Chinatown. I check the time, then scurry my way towards the Boss, a Chinese bakery with a diner in the back that serves up ‘Hong Kong Coffee,’ a mixture of black tea  AND coffee. I flash a tooth-ey smile and order six of them, for my fellow restaurant co-workers and I, to aide us through our upcoming shift at Bao Bei. On any given night, we’ll sling handfuls of plates of pork belly, fried rice and fancy cocktails to happy customers by the dozens, and we’ll need to keep up. The caffeine intake in this concoction doesn’t joke around, and as I sip mine I feel my heart leaping through my chest.

Since moving back to the West Coast, and partially because of where I work, I’ve begun to pay closer attention to the plethora of Asian culture here. It’s hard to ignore in a city like Vancouver, where as of 2011, Chinese people made up 27 per cent of the city's population. Vancouver is also home to North America’s third largest Chinatown, next to San Francisco and New York. It’s a bustling, functioning zoo rich with history that borders downtown Vancouver, as well as the not-so-glamorous East Hastings neighbourhood. On any given day, whether doing errands or just passing through, I come here and feel like I’m transported to another world. It’s what makes Vancouver stand out among its fellow Canadian metropolises. 

Besides the visually stimulating aspect of asian culture here, there are other pros to it: for example, the food. Some of the most addictive chicken wings you’ll ever have can be found at vietnamese hotspot Phnom Penh, while hundreds of pho and sushi joints provide quick and cheap hits to satisfy hunger. A trip to Ikea in Vancouver’s suburb of Richmond can also include a quick stop at the Chinese mall, for some $4 wonton soup and bubble tea. No matter what’s on the menu, any excursion for food in this city is pretty much guaranteed to be an adventure. 

Let’s also appreciate the cheap grocery factor: in such an expensive city where many people shop at Whole Foods for coconut water and gluten-free muffins, it can be a relief to head down to the dive-y area of East Hastings and pick up some not-perfect kale and beat up apples for a fraction of the cost. We recently discovered a place to buy  tofu that’s so fresh it’s still warm to the touch. 

While I am surely no expert at Chinese culture and I still have a lot to learn (I embarrassed myself on my first shift by casually sticking my chopsticks perpendicular to my rice as I was taking a breather), there’s no doubt that living in Vancouver is sure to bring about some welcome surprises.

All photos taken in Vancouver's Chinatown by Daniel Burke