Experiencing Chinese Lunar New Year in one of the country’s largest Asian communities – only a half-hour commute from Vancouver – is a real treat.
I’d not yet had the chance to take in the festival atmosphere and numerous dining options offered during the most important holiday of the Chinese calendar, so when Tourism Richmond invited me to partake in one big day of festivities, I couldn’t resist.
Lunar New Year, celebrated in many Asian countries, is a 15-day celebration starting on the first day of the first lunar month (Lunar New Year’s Day fell on February 8). 2016’s the Year of the Monkey; in Asian culture, the monkey symbolizes wealth, honour and luck.
We begin our day at the Dharma Drum Vancouver Center (DDVC) on 8240 No.5 Road, where on the morning of our visit, the entire building is brimming with events. This is the second year that DDVC has opened its doors to the community with a day-long program featuring Chinese craft workshops, drumming performances, hands-on activities for all plus a free vegetarian lunch.
The rooms soon fill up with traditional music, calligraphy, meditation sessions, even a festive lion’s dance to honour the holiday. This volunteer-run organization is open to all faiths — everyone I come across is friendly and outgoing. In fact, DDVC (open since 2006) is founded on the principles of sharing, compassion and giving.
The complex is located along No. 5 Road aka the Highway to Heaven. Did you know that there’s about 20 houses of worship along this stretch of road, from Tibetan monasteries to Sikh temples?
Even though our day’s been slightly diminished with constant rain, we don’t have to move very far to discover another hidden gem in this area: the colourful Thrangru Tibetan Monastery.
I’ve not yet visited Tibet, but I feel as though I’m there: this space is also a photographer’s dream! An enormous golden buddha flanks the large workshop room; there’s enough statues, offerings, ceramics and hand-painted elements to keep your eyes occupied for several oooh and ahhh moments.
If you’re in the area, consider a stop here and depending on their schedule, you’ll likely be able to enter to admire this beautiful space.
By now we’ve all built up an appetite so our gracious hosts whisk us off to Lansdowne Centre where an opening ceremony is about to unfold.
A Lion dance, Chinese opera, folk dance, Kung Fu and Taekwondo demonstrations (along with booths for Chinese calligraphy and craft sales) are just a few of the afternoon’s highlights. Some of the lovely handmade lanterns are sold by donation to benefit the Richmond Food Bank.
These highly sought after, handmade soup dumplings (aka XLB: Xiao, Long, Bao, translating into small, round, bun) are hitting the spot. If you head to Lansdowne, bring an appetite for your fix of R&H’s wonderful buns and dumplings!
True to name, the soup is contained within the dough so the best way to handle them is by lightly pinching at the top with chopsticks, then it’s either slurp or dig in. Either way, it’s a challenge at first to keep the soup from spilling but it’s a tasty discovery that we’ll be back to enjoy more of.
Our next stop is Aberdeen Centre: the second largest Asian mall in North America (and by far the biggest in BC). Here you’re immediately transported to Asia. Some of the outlets are local, many more are of Asian origin. We’re lunching in the food court.
With so many choices it’s hard to figure out what to order first, but our hosts have ordered from several restaurants and soon we’re digging into classic Asian street food, from Hainanese chicken to amazing award-winning bubble pancakes.
After lunch, it’s a brief stop to Ten Fu Tea & Ginseng Company for a brief tea demonstration. Ten Fu is a large tea company based in China.
We learn the three most important factors in brewing tea: vessel used, quantity and steep time. What else makes a good cup of tea great? Warming up the pot ahead of time. We’re given small cups of oolong tea to sample before heading off to Lulu Island Winery.
Lulu Island produces red and white table wines, fruit wines and their focus wine: icewine. A strict -8C temperature is necessary for harvesting the icewine grapes, otherwise it’s not officially icewine. 99.9% of the grapes for their wines are grown and harvested in the Okanagan Valley. The soil behind the winery was unsuitable for wine grapes; the Taiwanese owned-winery replaced all nine acres with “poor” soil that’s much better for their Chardonnay and Muscat grapes.
Pinot grapes are now being grown onsite and will likely be ready in a few more years. All wines are produced here at the winery. Icewine brandy (60% alc) is the next product in the collection. Look for its release in about a year. Their blueberry fruit wine includes 100% fruit – including skins – keeping the antioxidant properties of this tasty sipper high.
Lulu Island Winery hosted the China House during the Winter 2010 Olympics; the former party room has been converted to a shop and tasting area. Due to the large tour groups visiting the winery (particularly in summer), there’s three wine tasting rooms plus a VIP tasting room that includes a chandelier and gorgeous piano.
We sampled a French-oaked Merlot, Pinot Gris (with its sweet and peachy aroma and taste), blueberry wine, Riesling Chardonnay with a lovely colour and honey flavour and a red icewine (this one requires -14C temperatures). At $95 per bottle, this is also the rarest of the icewines and only 11 wineries in Canada produce it.
Also of note, Lulu products can be be shipped to Mainland China, Taiwan and Japan (free of charge for one or more cases). They’re located at 16880 Westminster Highway in Richmond.
To top off an already culturally-rich day, we finish off at Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant, where my friend Mijune Pak (Follow Me Foodie) is festively dressed in red to host a banquet for our group.
We start off with cold appetizers, moving to dried oysters (the most iconic Chinese New Year’s dish served), mushrooms, pig tongue, seafood, chicken, dry scallop soup, lobster, whole fish, later finishing with noodles, rice and small sweets.
Mijune gave a great background into the historical and cultural symbolism behind each dish and how it pertains to family and tradition.
As the pig is considered lucky in Chinese culture, eating it brings luck. Abalone sauce (served with one of our dishes) is also a delicacy, abalone representing abundance. On Chinese New Year’s eve, families gather to prepare dumplings, soup (an essential component to the meal) and other delicacies to see through another year of happiness, health and luck.
Noodles are served at the end of the meal; breaking the noodle is a no-no and will shorten your life significantly. This was a super fun, delicious and engaging way to learn about the importance of Chinese New Year.
Tummies full, we all part ways (a few in the group have arrived from the USA to enjoy the tour) with a better understanding of this most blessed and important holiday of the year.
Richmond is a great local escape for a taste of all things China; Aberdeen Centre is easily accessible via Canada Line SkyTrain. Get out there and immerse yourselves!