It used to be that you'd have to venture to Washington or New York to experience Asian cuisines. While our sophisticated northern neighbors were enjoying pad thai, pho and dim sum, Richmonders were ordering Americanized chop suey from the local Chinese takeout and eating it with a fork.
But as our city has grown and its population has changed, so too have its culinary offerings. Today, "Asian" could be Chinese or Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino or Thai.
These healthful and flavorful cuisines, once thought exotic, have become somewhat mainstream. Even non-Asian restaurants have adopted the native ingredients of these Eastern cultures and incorporated them into trendy fusion fare. Witness the recent invention of wasabi mashed potatoes, of coconut milk-based sauces, and soy- and teriyaki-glazed seafood. Lemongrass and cilantro have become as ubiquitous as parsley, and the local coffee shop is as likely to serve Chai tea as it is cappuccino.
Our culinary world truly has become a global village, and the East is one area of the world worth exploring with your tastebuds. In the last year, Richmond's restaurant scene has experienced an explosion of new Asian restaurants. We've added Filipino specialties to our menu with Manila! Manila! in the West End, added a few sushi bars on both sides of the river (Akida, Yatai Japanese Noodle House and Japan House) and expanded our Thai options with the addition of Thai Diner II in Carytown. Vietnamese restaurants have become as commonplace as Chinese restaurants once were, and Full Kee, Richmond's most authentic Chinese restaurant, does a booming business each Sunday for its dim sum brunch, where Richmonders nosh on exotic nibbles such as barbecued chicken feet, seaweed salad and taro root dumplings.
Here, and at many other Asian restaurants around town, you'll find novice Americans struggling to decide from multi-page menus dining next to recent immigrants who are happily munching on their native cuisine a good sign that what you're eating is the real thing. Sometimes the native Asians outnumber the native Americans sure proof of our changing city.
Our own little Chinatown has even sprung up, nestled in the area off Horsepen Road surrounding Full Kee. Walk into one of the many crowded markets in this area on a Saturday and you will be amazed not only be the variety of languages spoken by its patrons, but by the cornucopia of exotic food items available for purchase.
Don't be surprised if this Asian trend continues and if Richmond begins to welcome other international cuisines into its restaurant ranks. When barbecued chicken feet become mainstream, it's definitely time to look for something new.
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