This is the time of year for family dinners, friendship lunches and office socials. While I'd like to see you at all of our restaurants I know you must need a little variety in your life.
When I'm hosting a party, and I've already taken friends, family or coworkers through the Pike Place Market, I usually end up in Chinatown, or considering the last 30 years of immigration, the International District. All the holiday swag we buy is made in China anyway, so we might as well enjoy the cooking from the same region.
1st Stop- Dim Sum. It has been said that there is no "great" dim sum in Seattle. When I asked former PI food writer, Hsiao-Ching Chou where she goes, she immediately dismissed Seattle and voted enthusiastically for Sun Sui Wah in Vancouver, B.C. (fyi-the Pink Pearl is my favorite dim sum hang out in B.C.). I'm not so harsh. While I agree we don't have a great Dim Sum house on the order of Yank Sing, in San Francisco or Luk Yu, in Hong Kong, we do, however, have some worthwhile bites in Chinatown. Here are some of my favorites:
House of Hong
Best sticky rice (nor mai gai). This lotus leaf wrapped and steamed glutinous ball of rice is embedded with Chinese sausage (lup chong), mushrooms and chicken. It's really my barometer of a good dim sum house. Some people compare different houses by their shrimp dumpling (hau gau) or pork dumpling (siu mai). For me it all comes down to the nor mai gai.
Best baked pork bun (hum bao). These come baked (yeast dough) or steamed (baking powder dough). I wish they would brown the dough a little bit more, but the BBQ pork filling is nicely savory compared with most which are overly sweet. Steamed Pork Balls (sei lon bau) are fabulous. Perfectly "fatted" so they gush juices with each bite. Little bits of ginger and garlic throughout.
Best scene. Busy, noisy, fast- everything you want. Dim sum sometimes suffers a "chill" when a house is not busy enough. These carts are re-stocked on the fly with a nice variety. Griddled turnip cakes (lo bak go), steamed broccoli (gai lan) with oyster sauce, steamed pork dumplings (chiu zhuo), and baked egg tarts (dan tat)…
Next stop: Spend an hour at the new Wing Luke Asian Museum. The galleries are packed with Seattle history. My favorite is the preserved old Chinatown groceries. So much of my cooking today was influenced by strolls through Chinatown. Stan at Wah Yung grocery, Kevin at China Poultry, late nights at Tai Tung and early mornings at the King St. Café. Only Tai Tung remains open.
If you can swing it, call Timothy Louie and arrange a tour of Tsue Chong Noodle Factory (800 S. Weller). If not, make sure you stop at the store in front of the factory for some unfortunate fortune cookies, fresh rice noodles, and dry or steamed wheat noodles.
A few blocks away, check out Kobo at Higo (602 S Jackson St), Seattle's hippest Japanese gift store. They also have a location on Capital Hill in the Loveless Building, but this one is my favorite. For years I perused the aisles of Higo, a classic dry goods variety store run by two Murukami family sisters. It was always like walking through a time capsle, with many items on the shelf having been there for 50 years. Kobo is actually preserving some of the old Higo, but until they pipe in some moth ball smells they wont have it exactly.
Next: Grocery shopping for dinner. Cheapest- Viet Wah (1320 S Jackson St): Cheap tools, along with a nice variety of fresh and dry goods. Most diverse- Uwajimaya (600 5th Ave S): Now, you'll definitely want to grab a cart and spend, at minimum, an hour or you'll miss all the nooks and crannies. They have a terrific fish department that includes a massive live tank, an improving meat department with a nice selection of marinated meats and, of course, the best sake selection in Seattle. Don't miss the great produce department, the Japanese bookstore and shop the immense selection of dishware in the china department.
Last stop: BBQ pork and duck from King's BBQ House. I use these as appetizers or as ingredients in a soup or for the main course. Mostly I just snack on Seattle's best Chinese BBQ in the car on the way home!
-Tom, Jackie and Team
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