How Richmond, British Columbia Celebrates Asian New Year

In this roughly 50-square-mile city, more than half of the restaurants are Asian.

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pend a day in Richmond, British Columbia, and you may start to question which continent you’re in. Richmond is North America’s most Asian city, and it shows. While only 17% of Canada’s population is Asian, a surprising 74% of Richmond’s population is Asian, and more than 50% are of Chinese descent.

In this roughly 50-square-mile city, more than half of the restaurants are Asian. The malls are filled with stores geared towards Asian customers–one of them even hosts tai chi sessions six mornings a week. Instead of trendy food halls, Richmond is all about the food courts in Asian malls that are more reminiscent of hawker centers in Hong Kong or Singapore.

The 99-cent store Dollar Smart here doubles as a Filipino grocery store. In the summer, the city hosts the largest Asian-style night market in North America (locals will tell you it’s overpriced, but with over 100 food booths, it’s a fun market to visit nonetheless). With more than 60% of Richmond’s population born outside of Canada, some of the signs and menus in the city still don’t sport an English translation. Surrounding all this is a decidedly coastal Pacific Northwest landscape with peaceful beaches, a historic shipyard, marshes, and bog forests.

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Most of Richmond is located on two islands just south of Vancouver: Sea Island, where the Vancouver International Airport sits, and Lulu Island, where the majority of the city lives. The start of the Chinese immigration story to the area is similar to the stories in other North American cities. Chinese laborers initially came to British Columbia to work on the trans-Canada railway. After the completion of the railway, many stayed to find other work around the area, including at the salmon canneries in Steveston, a historic fishing village on the southern end of Lulu Island (learn more about this history at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site).

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The migration stopped for a couple of decades due to the Chinese Immigration Act, which was finally repealed in 1947. Immigration from Hong Kong increased in the 1980s and 1990s in anticipation of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, and most settled in the metro Vancouver area, likely drawn by the existing Asian community there and the more temperate climate compared to the East Coast. In recent years, most of the new immigrant population came from mainland China and the Philippines.

In a city like Richmond, the Lunar New Year is just as festive and important as Christmas and Gregorian New Year, with red and gold decorations all around the city. Lunar New Year is celebrated by many diverse cultures in Richmond: Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos.

This year, the Year of the Dragon starts on February 10, 2024, and Richmond’s various institutions have already started to gear up for the celebration.

The Golden Village neighborhood is the heart of Richmond, with a high concentration of malls that cater to the diverse population of Richmond with Chinese bookstores, Japanese tableware shops, and more. These malls have become the third place for the Asian-Canadian communities here, and unlike the typical malls, Richmond’s mall food courts are known to be some of the city’s best food destinations. Aberdeen Centre, one of the largest Asian malls in the Golden Village, holds an annual Flower & Gift Fair, which has become a tradition for many since 1989.

The fair typically features more than two dozen vendors and is meant to be a one-stop shop for all you need to celebrate the new year at home, from decorations to red envelopes to food. Lunar New Year countdown festivities are held at the mall annually and are broadcast live by Fairchild TV, a Canadian Cantonese-language channel that has its studio inside this very mall. Lion dances and other performances representing the many Asian cultures of Richmond are par for the course on Lunar New Year’s Day at Aberdeen Centre and other malls in the city.

And then, of course, there’s the food. Most would say the main reason to travel to Richmond is for the city’s Asian food scene, and food is such an integral part of Lunar New Year celebrations, regardless of which culture is celebrating. Richmond is home to Asian restaurants of all stripes, from some of the best Chinese food in the world to fine dining Thai tasting menus. Local families head to Richmond Public Market on weekends to buy fresh seafood and produce, but the second-floor food court is the real gem here, filled with budget-friendly eats like Hei Hei Rice Rolls and wheel cakes from Peanut’s Bubble Tea.

Do not miss a visit to Alexandra Road, affectionately known as “Wai Sek Kai” or “Food Street” because the street is home to around 200 restaurants; one of the most popular restaurants here is The Fish Man, which serves up Sichuan seafood dishes in an industrial dining room. Another must-visit shop on Alexandra Road is Daan Go Cake Lab, known for its unique cake designs–for Lunar New Year, there’s a raspberry chocolate mousse cake in the shape of a roast pig and a banana-espresso creation shaped like a bowl of longevity noodles.

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Many restaurants in Richmond and Metro Vancouver will be offering special set menus to celebrate Lunar New Year–Chinese menus typically include a fish dish symbolizing abundance–but another reason to head to Richmond around this time of year is Alaskan king crab season. Chinese fine dining restaurants like Kirin Restaurant are known to offer whole king crab feasts during the season, with garlic-laden steamed crab legs and the rest of the crab stir-fried in soy sauce.

Dumplings are a traditional food for Chinese New Year – the shape of one particular dumpling called jiaozi is similar to the gold ingot used as currency in ancient China–so Lunar New Year is the perfect time to explore Richmond’s official Dumpling Trail. Richmond is less than ten miles from Vancouver, so the celebrations are easily extended to the parade in Vancouver’s Chinatown or the exclusive Lunar New Year dim sum menu at Fairmont Pacific Rim designed by the award-winning restaurant Mott 32.

Community events in Richmond for the new year go beyond dining out and parades. Devout Buddhists and people of all faiths alike head to the beautifully landscaped International Buddhist Temple or LingYen Mountain Temple to make New Year offerings and receive blessings. Gateway Theatre, Richmond’s community theater, will be holding a Lunar New Year edition of Vancouver’s popular storytelling series called The Flame. Between the food crawls and the festivals, take a quiet break and walk the Iona Jetty or one of the trails in Richmond Nature Park, then get ready for more eating–because that’s really what we are all in Richmond for. 

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