By J. Chong. Visitors to Vancouver may notice, within the first few hours of being in downtown, or even just in shopping areas in Richmond near Vancouver International Airport, there is high visible presence of Asians. So many of them.
While some are visitors and foreign students, most of us are either Canadians or recent immigrant-residents. Some of us like myself, barely or may not even know their mother tongue. Metro Vancouver has a long history of Chinese and Japanese-Canadians in its cultural fabric, along the southern coast and in the interior British Columbia since the late 1800’s onward. Just to give 2006 census numbers: 382,000 are of Chinese descent in Metro Vancouver ( 2 million population). There are enough 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations of these Canadians who penetrate every socio-economic class and live everywhere in the region.
Later, the Vietnamese, Koreans, Filipinos, Cambodian and South Asians from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, have joined Vancouver ranks. 2006 Statistics Canada census data highlight the demographics between City of Vancouver and Metro Vancouver (includes adjacent suburbs of Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey, etc.). In the city of Richmond alone, over 50% of the population is of Chinese descent, whereas in Vancouver it is 30% of the population. In Surrey, 30% of the population is of South Asian descent.
This Pacific Rim demographic has transformed Vancouver permanently and has injected a dynamic drive and vibe that touches restaurant cuisine, the arts, events, economy, politics and social relationships.
Vancouver has an impressive array of restaurants in traditional cuisines as well as those offering exciting East-West fusion dishes. In Metro Vancouver, there are literally hundreds of restaurants covering various Asian cuisines. Japanese sushi and sashimi are very popular with many locals, of which many non-Asian locals, have already learned to use chopsticks. It is not uncommon in Vancouver for multi-course, catered business lunches for groups to include sushi –simply because locals are accustomed to sushi, like hamburger. And such folks aren’t even Asian at times.
For restaurant reviews with the inside scoop from locals who were raised on Asian cuisine and understand its myriad culinary points, go to this popular food blog chowtimes.com . It’s read by other Asian foodies. It is a labour of love by a Malayasian-Chinese Canadian couple in Richmond.
It is well-known among Chinese-Canadians and Chinese-Americans, that Metro Vancouver is one of the top major North American spots for the greatest number and range of Chinese restaurants and variety on several regional cuisines.
There are 3 major Chinatown areas in Metro Vancouver of which some are directly accessible by light rapid rail: historic downtown Vancouver city (Skytrain stop: Chinatown/Stadium Station), Marpole area and in City of Richmond (Canada Line: Aberdeen-Landsdowne Stop). See right-hand side on this blog for TransLink maps.
There are bike routes that run through or near these areas. The Carallel Street Greenway/Bikeway runs through old, historic Chinatown to the Vancouver Portlands area. The most difficult cycling route for visitors to determine, is Richmond Chinatown area: It tends to be jammed with cars on weekends. The Canada Line rail might be more convenient unless you find a bike parking spot against a post, etc.
Local annual events that reflect the convergence of East-West include: Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner (a fun annual dinner that is fusion Chinese-Scottish celebration of Chinese New Year’s and Robert Burns Day, a Scottish poet) and the Dragonboat Festival which attracts many international dragon boat teams to compete by plying the waters of False Creek in yes, downtown Vancouver — 10 days before Velocity Global 2012 begins.
From June onward after 6:00 pm on weekends, there are summer night outdoor markets with street food and souveniers at the downtown Vancouver Chinatown and in Richmond. Streets are closed for this event or for Richmond, an empty lot is occupied.
So make sure not to stay in your hotel. Get out, taste some different food and see some sights that are a harbinger of a global city in spirit and its people while in Vancouver.
Note: We would welcome locals to post suggestions for things to see, events and key eating areas that South Asians and others would recommend for other cultural/fusion activities. (ie. there is a huge local practitioner base for bhangra dance, many South Asian restaurants in Surrey, etc.)
Statistics Canada. Community profiles from 2006 Census: Metro Vancouver compared against entire province of British Columbia. Note: Population has grown since the census.