If you’ve never been to Vancouver, it’s quite possible you’ve never heard of Richmond, B.C.. The fast-growing city is made up of two islands separated from its more famous neighbor to the north by the Fraser River. Most of the more than 200,000 residents live in the western half of Lulu Island, which represents more than 90% of the city’s landmass. Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is located on Sea Island, which is also part of Richmond.
Vancouver may have eight Michelin-starred restaurants and the best variety in terms of food and activities, but it’s well-known among locals that you go to Surrey for South Asian cuisine and Richmond for East Asian food. And if you’re visiting from late April to early October, you don’t have to enjoy it all in sit-down restaurants.
What started in 2000 at the Continental Centre parking lot has since grown into the largest outdoor night market in North America. There are a few ways to describe the Richmond Night Market. It has the feel of a crowded amusement park but with good food. Entering the market can feel like rushing your way into a sold-out concert but with Western Canada’s best food options all in one place. There are dozens of artisans selling shirts, socks, phone cases and more, but food is definitely the main attraction here. And in Richmond, it’s one of, if not the top attraction.
The night market is all about the food…
Most of the 200-plus food vendors are selling Asian street fare with a North American twist, but you can also find churros as well as Latin American drinks like horchata. While there’s no exact number of available items on any given night, 600 is a reasonable estimate. And there’s a pretty impressive lack of overlap when it comes to items and the various takes. As overlap is frowned upon at the market, it forces vendors to get creative with sushi tacos, butter chicken fries, mochi French toast and bubble tea served in a milk bottle.
You’ll find vendors of all adult ages, but the attendees are definitely a younger crowd. Each month, there’s a large display showing the ten most popular items of the month. Those tend to be a mix of sweet and savory, leaning towards the latter. While the top ten list can be a good starting point for someone new to the market, it would be difficult for any serious gourmand to stick to a list when there’s just so much available.
The food and entertainment are well separated. If they were not, one might wonder how long you can watch a K-pop show with all the different smells assaulting your senses every six feet. For example, during a typical 30-second walk, you are likely to experience the smell of cumin lamb being overpowered by the pungent scent of stinky tofu before taking in the more pleasant aroma of freshly grilled bubble waffles.
…but there is a lot more than just good eats
There’s so much going on around the Richmond Night Market and not just within the ticketed area. With thousands of visitors each night, the human wave that follows the opening song is something worthy of a timelapse video. And every few minutes, you’ll either see a metro train going by or an Air Canada jet flying above your head. The market is a five-minute walk from Bridgeport station and directly across the Fraser River from Vancouver International Airport.
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To get an idea of the market’s vastness, you can head up to the observation area (for no charge), which can feel like looking down at a big city from the relative serenity of an outdoor observation deck.
A few businesses got their start at the night market
If you’ve spent some time in Vancouver, Surrey or Burnaby before visiting the market, vendors like Mango Yummy and Icy Bar may already look familiar. Those are just two of the vendors that have used the Richmond Night Market as a launching pad for stand-alone locations.
Mango Yummy started selling Taiwanese-inspired desserts at the market in the early 2010s. A couple of years later, the owners opened a location in one of Richmond’s many strip malls. It was the reaction to their North American takes on Chinese-style desserts that gave them the confidence to open a location with ten times as many items as they were able to sell from the small market stall. A decade and a pandemic later, Mango Yummy is still at its spot on Westminster Highway.
When Icy Bar became a vendor in 2011, they had just one location at the nearby Parker Place Mall. More than a decade later, there are now a total of five Icy Bar locations between Richmond and Vancouver. When asked if the market played a part in spreading the word, Ken (who helps manage the Instagram account) says absolutely yes. He also says that although many of the food options are different, the overall vibe of the Richmond Night Market is similar to at least one he’s been to in Taipei.
Heidi (who helps manage the Mango Yummy Instagram account for her parents) said that although much of what you’ll find at the market is modified at least somewhat for North American tastes, her cousins who have visited from Asia enjoyed the Richmond Night Market more than some they’ve been to back home.
The $7 admission is not the only incentive for you to stick around for a while. Like the Queens Night Market in New York City, the Richmond Night Market runs from 6 pm to 12 am on Saturdays. But while New Yorkers can only enjoy their night market once a week, people in Richmond can also enjoy theirs on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays that fall on a national holiday. The four-to-six-hour window may seem like a long time to spend at an outdoor market in the summer, but one must keep in mind that there are lines at most stalls. You’ll be cheating yourself if you try any less than three vendors during your first visit. Those two facts, combined with the non-culinary entertainment, make time go fast to the point where you should allow a minimum of two hours for your first visit.
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