Quirky Chinatown: Top 5

Last week, Vancouver’s Chinatown was declared a national historic site by the federal government.  The three blocks along Pender Streer, from Gore Avenue to Taylor Street, now join 956 other national historic sites around the country.

The new designation got me thinking about what Chinatown has to offer.  For tourists, it’s a must see, but many Vancouverites rarely venture through the colourful Millennium Gate on Pender to explore what’s inside.

So I’ve come up with a short, quirky list of some of the overlooked (and not-so-overlooked) charms of Chinatown.  Here goes:

1) Chinese Tea Shop: Located on the corner of Pender and Columbia Streets, this tiny shop is one of many selling rare and exotic teas in Chinatown.  What sets it apart is that, for a nominal fee, master tea maker Daniel Lui will walk you through an elaborate Chinese tea ceremony.  It’s an impressive ritual, involving dousing cups in hot water, rinsing leaves and sampling multiple pours.

2) Evergreen Taoist Church of Canada: This is a little hard to find, but worth the effort.  Look for the sign near the corner of Keefer and Main Streets and then head up the narrow stairway to Chinatown’s hidden Taoist temple.  On the third floor, in what looks like an office space, is an elaborate altar with carved wooden figures.   You can light incense and read your fortune in specially made pick-up-sticks.

3) Beijing Trading Co.: Across the street from the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, this traditional apothecary shop is lined with jars full of exotic herbs and remedies.   You can find everything from rare wild ginseng to actual birds’ nests made by swallows in China and consumed to relieve indigestion.  There’s even a traditional pharmacist in back who will assess your ills and prescribe the right remedy.

4) Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden: OK – This is the opposite of off-the-beaten-path, but it still deserves a mention.  Built in 1986 by 52 laborers from China, this is considered the finest classical scholars garden in North America.  It’s not big, but attention has been paid to every detail – from the delicate roof tiles to the koi-filled ponds.

5) Bao Bei: The secret’s out on this casual, contemporary Chinese restaurant on Keefer Street, but it’s still well worth a visit.  Food is light not oily, prepared with fresh, local ingredients and served in an atmosphere that feel’s nothing like the typical Chinese joint. Be sure to try the steamed buns with braised beef short ribs.

Know any other hidden gems in Chinatown?  Please comment below.

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