[Written and edited for Richmond Tourism – 365 Days of Dining]
In Asia, barbecued meats are reserved for special occasions. Meat is a precious commodity – so careful grilling and roasting ensures the best of every cut is highlighted. Though justifiably famous for Chinese cuisine, the range of ethnic flavors in Richmond is astonishing. But regardless of the different styles and techniques, the intentions of Asian BBQ are remarkably pure and similar – to bring family and friends together in the spirit of plenty and joy.
Hong Kong BBQ
It’s easy to take for granted the amazing number of high quality Hong Kong style BBQ outlets in Richmond. But there are two purveyors who stand out from the crowd. Each has claiming loyal clientele who patiently endure long line-ups for their products.
HK BBQ Master’s fans drive in from all over Metro Vancouver for the legendary honey glazed BBQ pork (char sui). Here’s a pro tip, don’t be afraid of the fattier cuts; ask for half fat/ half lean, which ensures luxurious succulence in every bite. Meanwhile, Parker Place Meats and BBQ aficionados swear by the roasted pork belly (sui yuk) – yielding distinctive layers of luscious fat and tender pork.
Who’s better? I give the slight nod to HK BBQ Master for having table service, so you can ask for a squeeze bottle of the house soy sauce to douse your BBQ meats and rice platters (an upcharge on take out orders). Then again, everyone should try the glorious Chinese roasted goose at Parker Place Meats & BBQ, which is only available sporadically.
Thankfully, these two Chinese BBQ titans are within easy walking distance of each other to minimize fears of missing out.
The Chinese are very social diners – and in Sichuan, this means skewers of meat, grilled over charcoal, sprinkled with cumin and chili peppers; washed down with cold beers and lively conversation that stretch late into the evening.
The relatively new Happy Tree House BBQ is brightly lit (even by Chinese standards), super clean, and with a row of giant big screen TV’s – squarely aimed at families with young children. Despite the off the chart sound levels, this place has been packed from day one and a reservation is absolutely mandatory.
The skewers come fast and furious, perfectly cooked and doused with a nice amount of spice – and there are tableside jars of ground chili and cumin in case you’d like to amp things up. The classic lamb, beef, and chicken skewers are nicely tender and relatively free of gristle, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your penchant for textures (Asians certainly don’t mind a bit of chew). If you are feeling adventurous – the skewers of grilled pork intestines, chicken gizzards, and lamb kidneys all have a clean snap to them.
The seafood items can suffer from garlic overload, but the chilled shredded potatoes and tiger chilies (a salad of jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and sliced onions) bring vivid freshness to the meal.
At the other end of the Sichuan skewer scale – is Chuan Ku BBQ Restaurant. An edgy late night hole in the wall with a somewhat fearless attitude towards cleanliness. The focus here is squarely on lamb – with a menu that reads like a textbook of mutton cuts. You can even get a whole roasted lamb if you have enough hungry and intrepid friends.
But the absolute star of Chuan Ku is the quail, rubbed with a warm and balanced spice mixture, and grilled to finger licking perfection. And at the astounding price of $6 each, it’s a dish worth braving sticky floors and dicey washrooms for.
If you have ever been invited to a Filipino family picnic – you’ll understand the outsized generosity of the food and the family friendly atmosphere of Kumare Restaurant and Bakery. During peak dining hours, the room borders on frantic as servers rush to take orders and deliver food. My advice is to be patient and enjoy being part of the boisterous multi generational clientele.
Garlicky grilled skewers of pork and chicken are perfectly charred before being brushed with a lovely sweet glaze. The chicken inasal is marinated with citrus and coconut vinegar and then grilled to fall apart tenderness and dripping juiciness. – pure backyard BBQ nirvana.
If you give Kumare a week’s notice, they will even roast a whole crackling skinned pig for you – aka crispy lechon, one of the great porcine dishes of the world. Be sure to finish your meal with one of their house made pastries. The luridly purple ube (taro) cake studded with macapuno (young coconut) has an earthy muskiness that brings depth to the rich sweetness.
Walking into the original location of Afghan Chopan on 3 Road you are immediately enveloped by the scent of smoky grilled meats and the soft tang of rising bread. You’ll see traces of soot on the walls from years of cooking, long metal skewered kebabs being carefully turned, and huge flat breads (naan) being hand pressed and dimpled, sprinkled with sesame seeds to be baked in huge ovens. It is at once gritty and romantic.
The ridiculously tiny space was once a take out pizza stand and most of the clientele still take their food to go. If you want to have a real sit down dining experience, head to their new modern location in the ground floor of the Richmond Public Market.
The bone in lamb shoulder chops (chopan) are grilled simply, with just the right amount of smoke and the flesh retaining a gamey chew. The choice of kebabs includes chicken, beef or ground beef – each subtly yet distinctly spiced. The side dishes and appetizers are real showstoppers. Delicate steamed dumplings filled with beef (mantu) or leeks and coriander (ashak) evoke the culinary Silk Road. The basmati rice is exemplary, perfectly tender and fluffy with nary a broken grain.
Take note that both restaurants are strictly Halal so no alcohol is served.
I can’t think of anyone who has a home tandoor oven – so it makes sense to head out to a restaurant for roasted Indian meats. However, if you buy marinated meats from an Indian meat shop, you can replicate restaurant flavors easily and surprisingly reasonably. Best Tandoori Chicken and Meats stocks a fantastic array of skinless dark meat chicken, marinated in various sauces. The seasonings ring deeply with fresh spices and chilies, but never overwhelms the inherent flavor of the meat.
Grab yourself a few pounds of marinated chicken, throw them on the home BBQ or grill. Serve with salad, rice, a few quartered lemons and chilled beers – and you have yourself an exceptional and relaxed crowd pleasing meal. And isn’t that the goal of eating with your family and friends?
Where to go:
HK BBQ Master
4651 No.3 Road
604 272 6568
Parker Place Meat and BBQ
4380 No. 3 Road
604 233 1138
Big Tree House BBQ
#105, 8171 Alexandra Road
778 297 1386
Chuan Ku BBQ
8291 Westminster Hwy
778 297 5577
Kumare Restaurant & Bakery
8130 Park Road
604 284 511
Afghan Chopan Bakery & Diner
6652 No. 3 Road (original location)
604 278 6555
8260 Westminster Hwy (new sit down restaurant)
604 273 6505
Best Tandoori Chicken & Meat Shop
4117 No.5 Road
604 279 9991