It’s like we’re in Asia again for the fantastic night markets that you can only find there – the kind where the crowd is so thick you have to elbow your way around, where the deep fried smell starts to immediately permeate your clothes and the plethora of Hello Kitty and cheap cellphone cases almost lure you in. Ah, but the night market we’re at tonight isn’t in Asia. In fact, it’s only a few hours from our home in Seattle. It’s the Richmond Night Market in Richmond, British Columbia.
The sights and sounds are overwhelming from the moment you arrive at the large dusty grounds where the Richmond Night Market sets up camp each summer. It’s the largest night market in North America, so you know you’re in for a really good time. The giant rubber ducky greets you at the entrance. The line is atrociously long, but if you spend a few more bucks and buy an express pass, you’ll get right in, skipping past a couple hundred of your fellow market goers.
The market is one of our favorite things to do in Vancouver, and we make the annual pilgramage to Canada at least once every summer to attend. There’s really nothing else quite like it nearby, certainly not in Seattle, and I love how I can almost forget where I’m at for the evening. It feels like Japan or China or Thailand, even if it’s only a mirage.
Once inside, there’s an entertainment stage where something interesting is always going on. I never spend much time there though, nor around the midway games or even browsing around the vendors selling phone cases and pajamas. Instead, I make a beeline to the back of the venue where the food vendors can be found. Let’s be honest, the food is why people go to the night market, so you might as well cut to the chase. Also, the food area becomes very packed with lines starting to form by 8pm, so it’s a good idea to get food first and look around later.
What You Must Eat
I’m an adventurous eater and I love finding new International dishes to try, and the Richmond Night Market is practically made for people like me. All of the area’s best International cooks have a booth where they sell incredible plates of food from all over Asia, and even a few from elsewhere (I’m pretty sure I saw some Bratwurst and Pretzels, once).
My favorite of everything at the market is the Rotato. It’s a huge hit and there’s always a giant line to order. They take a whole russet potato, spin it on their spiral cutter and make a slinky on a skewer. Then they deep fry it to golden perfection and coat it with the flavoring of your choice. I always go for BBQ or Honey Mustard.
Another top specialty at the market is squid. At least a dozen different vendors sell squid in all different variations. Usually it’s a giant plate of grilled squid or a heaping pile of giant fried calamari rings for about $8. It’s probably the best deal at the market.
But you don’t want to fill up on one thing. There are too many things to try to eat only one dish. I always look for the best chow mein or noodles. We’ve had Yakisoba that was incredible. This year we tried a Thai crispy chicken that was outstanding. Spicy, saucy and crunchy – so good.
Other foods you’ll find are dumplings, pork buns, chicken skewers, sushi, rotisserie chicken, a variety of bbq meat, soup, candy, fresh squeezed lemonade, fish balls, etc. It’s hard to even explain how many different choices there are. Most things are served in small quantity for around $5 so you can try multiple things. Some are more generous and cost up to $8. And there are a few things that are cheaper even.
For dessert, my favorite thing to get is mango sticky rice. This year we found some durian sticky rice. There are also decadent Belgian waffles, fried ice cream, floats and even deep fried snickers and oreos.
The night market runs from mid-May to mid-October each year. It’s open from 7pm to 12am on Friday and Saturday, and from 7pm to 11pm on Sunday and holidays. The cost of admission is $2.75, but children 10 & under and Seniors 60 & up are free. You’ll want to make every effort to arrive by 6:30 to get in the line that rapidly grows to epic lengths. By 7:30pm on my nights, the line will be at least 45 minutes to an hour long.
If you don’t get there early enough to beat the line, the next best thing is a Zoom pass, which will cost you $20, but will allow you to skip the line. Zoom Passes great for return visits, because there are 7 passes included in the pass, and they are fully transferable. So if you’re going to go back more than once, or you have friends who might want to go later, they’ll surely get used up. Alternatively, if you have more people in your party, you can all get in on the same night using the zoom pass. I went with 3 of my friends and we used the zoom pass for all 4 of us to get in. It would have cost us $11 regularly. So for $9 more, we surpassed the atrocious line and got right to eating! Worth it.
It’s a small price to pay. The market features at least a hundred vendors selling all kinds of food, drinks, desserts and trinkets. There are midway games, entertainment all night long and plenty of people watching.
Here’s a map of the market so you can get an idea of the layout: http://www.richmondnightmarket.com/imgs/map-blue-web.jpg. As you can see, it’s a rather large space.
How to Get There
The best way to get to the Richmond Night Market is to take the Skytrain. Driving is futile and will probably cause you more stress than it’s worth. Not only is traffic really congested getting there, the parking lot is a fiasco. If you’re already in the city, take the Canada Line in the direction of Richmond. The stop you get off at is NOT Richmond. We’ve made that mistake before. Get off at the Bridgeport Station. You’ll see the River Rock Casino just beyond the station. Head to the right when you exit the station and follow the stream of people. If you’re unsure where to go, look beyond the casino in the distance and you’ll see the giant rubber ducky.
The Official Richmond Night Market
8700 McKim Way #3063
Some Insider Tips
- Get there early to avoid the lines.
- Stay late to get closeout deals on food when the vendors start shutting down for the night.
- Go hungry. I mean really hungry.
- Pick up a coupon book at the entrance with some useful coupons for food.
- It gets crowded, so it’s not easy to walk around first and then decide what you want to eat. Instead, when you see something you like, just get it. You’ll thank me later.
- There’s very little seating available, so be prepared to stand and be moving around all night.
- Take plenty of cash. Some vendors might take a card, but most don’t.
- It’s not always possible to stay with a group of people – pick a meeting spot and have everyone bring their food back there to eat.
- Be adventurous and try new things.