Richmond Night Market

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Kam's dragon's beard candy

The dragon’s beard candy stall at Richmond’s night market. Photos by David Lansing.

So Mijune and I were gobbling up some serious crispy skin pork from Parker Place Meat & BBQ when Mijune spotted a place where they sell dragon’s beard candy. She bought a little four-pack of the stuff and I tried it. It was okay. Not great, but okay.

And then a few days later, we were at T&T, the Asian supermarket, and, again, we got some dragon’s beard candy. I liked it better this time.

So last weekend when we were pigging out at the Richmond Night Market, our last stop was the Kam’s Dragon’s Beard Candy stall.

Dragon’s beard candy is sort of like Chinese cotton candy—with a peanut cluster in the middle. What makes it interesting isn’t so much what it tastes like but how it’s made (and I think you could say the same about cotton candy).

Making dragon's beard candy

She’s holding a piece of dragon’s beard candy while the guy on the right is doing his magic making the sugar strands. Photo by David Lansing.

I stood watching the guy making the candy at the Night Market and Mijune tried to explain to me what was going on. Basically, the guy takes spun sugar that has been boiled and then repeatedly pulls and folds it over until he’s created hundreds of thread-like sugar strands, and then he covers the sugar strands in rice flour, to prevent sticking, while pulling the strands apart.

Once the strands are made, he hands them to a woman who cuts them into small pieces and wraps the spun sugar around a mixture of peanuts, sesame seeds, and coconut. That’s it.

Originally, Dragon’s beard candy was only made for the emperors of China (and called dragon’s beard because dragons are a Chinese imperial symbol). According to Mijune there are only a few hundred people in the world today who even know how to make it. So I suppose that also adds to its allure. Also, it doesn’t really hold up very well after its made. You kind of need to eat it fresh. Which also makes it seem more exotic.

Anyway, we waited in line for 15 or 20 minutes, watching the guy pull the sugar strands apart and it was like watching a magic trick. I couldn’t quite figure out how, exactly, he did it.

I asked the woman who was taking the sugar strands and stuffing them with the nut/coconut mixture how long it took the guy to learn how to make the candy. She said four years.

So it takes him four years to learn how to make the candy, and then we have to stand in line for 15 minutes to buy a package, and the whole thing is gone in like 30 seconds. The short, happy life of dragon’s beard candy.

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Seafood Kingdom, Richmond, BC

Alvin Fung at the Seafood Kingdom stall at Richmond's Night Market. Photos by David Lansing.

Just the other day I was reading a story in the Wall Street Journal about how there’s a glut of East Coast lobsters this summer. The story noted that prices for lobsters at some docks in Maine have fallen to as low as $1.25 a pound—70% below normal and nearly a 30-year-low for this time of year.

Good news for consumers, right? Not according to WSJ. They say consumers aren’t likely to see any bargains this summer because “retailers have fixed costs that limit big price drops.”

lobster at Seafood Kingdom, Richmond Night Market

The $6 lobster Motoyaki at the Seafood Kingdom stall. Photo by David Lansing.

Well, that’s not true at the Seafood Kingdom stall at the Richmond Night Market where, on Saturday, I not only got half a grilled lobster for $5.95 but I also got a whole abalone in oyster sauce for $6.

I don’t know how you can top that. In fact, I don’t know how they do it, even if lobster is going for only $1.25 a pound wholesale (you still have to ship it to Vancouver, keep it alive, and then you’ve got your operational costs).

I asked the guy who served me my lobster, Alvin Fung, how they could afford to do this. Alvin, it turns out, is the director of a special project by the seafood retailer A&J Specialty Seafood, and that project happens to be finding a way to expand their wholesale operation into retail as well.

Alvin explained to me that they can sell lobster and abalone for just $6 because they don’t have to deal with a middle-man—they are the middle-man. “We’re trying to introduce the public to our products,” said Fung, who told me that the lobsters, which are Ocean Safe, come from Nova Scotia, and the abalone is farmed in New Zealand.

They were both good although I definitely was drawn to the grilled lobster motoyaki. But I had to try the abalone since I haven’t had fresh abalone in—god, I don’t even know when. A long time. But next time I think I’ll just spend my $12 on two lobsters and skip the abalone.
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Takoyaki at Bakudanyaki in Richmond, BC

Takoyaki at the Richmond Night Market. Photos by David Lansing.

Back to the Richmond Night Market where Mijune took me to the Daikichi Bakudanyaki stall. These guys specialize in giant takoyaki balls. Takoyaki us a ball-shaped dumpling (or fritter) and is usually sold in Japan at yatais, which are small, mobile food stalls (the word literally means “shop stand”).

They say the first guy to make takoyaki came from Osaka and they’re still considered something of a regional specialty there (you can find them in Tokyo, just not as easily; in Osaka they’re everywhere).

Daikichi Bakudanyaki at the Richmond Night Market.

Daikichi Bakudanyaki at the Richmond Night Market.

So here’s how you make a takoyaki: You make a sort of pancake batter from rice flour and wheat flour and cook it in a special mold and then stuff it with squid or octopus (originally in Osaka it was just octopus) and then maybe some cabbage, pickled ginger, rice, and green onion. At Bakudanyaki, they also put a quail egg in it, which is kind of interesting.

So the inside of the takoyaki is pretty much the same. What differentiates one takoyaki from another is the sauce that goes on top. Each yatai vendor will usually make his own sauces and they can be as creative as the cook. At Bakudanyaki you had your choice of curry, chili mayo, wasabi mayo, original, and the special of the day was pizza. I don’t know why you’d want to put a pizza flavoring on your seafood fish ball, but there you go.

Mijune and I ordered several different takoyaki balls just so we could taste the different flavor toppings. I’m not a big curry guy so that definitely wasn’t my favorite. I liked the original, though I’m not sure what was in that. But my favorite was the wasabi. The cream sauce really cut the bite of the wasabi so it didn’t blast your mouth but definitely added a little kick to savory innards of the takoyaki ball. Good stuff.

Here’s a short video I took of them explaining what takoyaki is and how they make them.

Richmond Night Market on Urbanspoon

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The Japanese goth and Miss Lolita

Japanese Goth and Lolita fashion

The Japanese goth and Miss Lolita. Photo by David Lansing.

In the Japanese fashion scene there’s a Gothic subculture as well as something called the Lolita look which is primarily inspired by the anime scene. As Wikipedia says, the origin of the Lolita fashion “is complex and remains unclear.”

Last weekend while Mijune and I were wandering around the Richmond Night Market, I saw these two girls that perfectly embodied both the Japanese goth look as well as Lolita fashion.

According to one story I recently read about the Japanese goth fashion, “The main emphasis of Japanese gothic fashion revolves around Victorian style dressing. Basically the gothic girls attempt to dress up as Victorian porcelain dolls. The attempt is to exaggerate the element of cuteness to the extent that it appears to be childlike.”

Miss Goth was wearing a severe ankle-length wool black dress, a black cameo brooch at her neck, and a rose brocade hair ornament with several crucifixes dangling over her forehead. Miss Lolita wore a very short pink pinafore with a matching bow in her hair and her eyes were heavily made up to resemble an anime doll. They were quite the couple.

I was so transfixed by them that I eventually approached and asked them if I could take their picture. Miss Goth was a little outraged: “We are not like animals whose picture you take at the zoo,” she said. I told her that I wanted to take their picture because I thought both of them were quite beautiful and extremely fashionable (this was true). This calmed Miss Goth down. She then suggested they move to a spot that was getting better light and then she and Miss Lolita stared straight ahead at the camera while I clicked off a dozen or more shots. They were fantastic and I only wish I could have shot them in more situations at the Night Market.

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Chef James Xin Jiang Man BBQ

I don't know how Chef James makes any money selling 3 skewers for $7 and 5 for $11. It's a bellyful of food. Photos by David Lansing.

Mijune and I spent more time at the Richmond Night Market this weekend. There are just so many stalls I want to try—you can’t do it in a single visit.

“You like lamb?” Mijune asked me.

I love lamb.

“Okay, then let’s head over to Chef James. He makes the best lamb skewers around.”

Chef James at Richmond Night Market

Chef James with skewers of lamb, his signature item. Photo by David Lansing.

Chef James is actually James Chen. His weekday gig is as a chef at the Fairmont Waterfront in downtown Vancouver. But on weekends, he’s a rock star out at the Night Market. I’ll tell you what—if the Fairmont is hiding Chef James in the back, they’re not taking full advantage of his talents. James is a natural showman. He’s got moves like Jagger. Truly.

Even before you get to his stall, which is called Chef James Xin Jiang Man BBQ, you hear him talking up the crowd, moving them towards him like a carnie at the state fair. “You want bbq, I know you want bbq, so you should come and get bbq because I make the best bbq you can find.”

Xinjiang is in the far western region of China, near Afghanistan, and what Chef James is pushing is a staple of the region’s Uighur cuisine, lamb on a skewer flavored with salt, black pepper, red chili pepper, and roasted cumin seed. It’s the cumin that sets Xinjian cuisine apart from other Chinese cuisine.

Chef James doesn’t just grill up lamb. He’s also got beef, chicken and honey garlic prawn skewers. And they’re all good. But the lamb is the thing.
Richmond Night Market on Urbanspoon

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