By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
During Seattle’s snow debacle, my friend almost depleted his food supply. He wasn’t the only one. Many people couldn’t get out of their homes to buy food for more than a week, when walls of snow surrounded neighborhoods.
“Food is never my problem during snow days.” I laughed since I am an International District (ID) business owner and resident. I got out of my home even during the storm, and shopped for groceries in the ID.
I frequently joke that the ID is my kitchen. It is. For the past 37 years of having an office in Chinatown, I have been blessed with delicious take-out for lunch, breakfast, and dinner. The restaurant that opens the earliest is Dim Sum King at 6:30 a.m.
At one point in my life, the ID spoiled me so much that I became a lousy cook. My husband and sons used to rave about my cooking previously.
Now, I enjoy cooking at home for different reasons, especially if I desire a low-fat and low-sodium meal. Another reason is, fresh ingredients are available in the ID, such as seafood, produce, and poultry. We eat fish —sea bass, salmon and black cod—at least thrice a week as it provides us with omega 3 fats. Once in a while, I crave crab stir-fried with green onions, garlic, and ginger. Chinatown restaurants do an incredible job of cooking crab, stir-fried or steamed, with white sauce, black bean sauce, green onions, and scallions, gourmet broth or garlic. Still, I prefer to eat crab at home so I can use my fingers instead of chopsticks. Anyone can easily buy a live crab in the ID. When the employee at the store agrees to chop up the crab into small pieces, it makes my day. It’s hard to do so at home when my knives are blunt. Yeah, yeah, any professional chef would laugh at my kitchen— it’s amateurish and outdated.
Frankly, I like to hide my embarrassing crab-eating. You have no idea — it gets very messy when I suck the juice from the crab legs or from the shell.
Yes, you can hear my sucking and slurping. The louder the sound, the more I’m enjoying the crab. I delight myself by licking my tasty fingers clean.
When I eat crab in a restaurant, other diners wouldn’t tolerate my behavior, and would likely say, “The Asian Weekly’s publisher is a disgrace to the Asian community. Such awful manners!” And if someone takes a photo and shames me on the internet, I would be doomed.
Recently, I attended two Lunar New Year dinners and they both served crab. They must have thought that I don’t care for crab because I took a small piece, and refused a second one. On the contrary. I just have enough self-discipline to resist that yummy crab dish.
There are a few reasons why I love to shop for food in the ID.
It’s not just Asian food available in the ID, which is made up of Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon. There are other kinds of food, including cheese sandwiches, hamburgers, pizzas, and spaghetti. Did I say spaghetti?
In fact, you can order spaghetti at Purple Dot. Diners know that Purple Dot serves dim sum, but you can also order spaghetti and meat sauce, French toast, and other non-Asian dishes.
The selection of Asian cuisines available in the ID is bigger than in any other parts of the city. Just go to the Uwajimaya food court, you won’t be disappointed.
It stirs imagination
Two days ago, I had pizza, rice soup, and Chinese roast duck for lunch. The combination sounds weird. Not really. I just wanted pizza and roast duck.
And they were all at my fingertips. They were not only yummy, but all from the ID. First, I bought the pizza from World Pizza, then wandered a block down for half a roast duck at King’s BBQ, and a bowl of congee with pork and preserved egg at Fortune Garden Restaurant. The food was enough for me, my husband, and son.
You can create any satisfying combinations of food between the East and West in the ID. It just makes eating so interesting.
The price is right
The cost of living in Seattle is high. But in the ID, food costs less compared to other parts of the city, especially in restaurants. If you want to treat a big group of friends, the restaurants here won’t break the bank. And you can often request complimentary desserts if you have a large party.
Variety and flexibility
No place else in the city can provide you with such a wonderful variety of cuisine. Even though many restaurants are Chinese and Vietnamese, the food they offer, varies. You can create your own favorite stir-fried noodles by requesting different ingredients. The wait staff might charge a bit more money— but it’s reasonable. I once asked for boiled free-range chicken instead of Chinese spring-fried chicken from Ho Ho Restaurant. It was only $5 more. One time, I asked Ocean Star Restaurant to give me duck instead of chicken, and the bill increase was also reasonable.
Since there are over 100 restaurants in the ID, I never want to wait for more than five minutes at any restaurant. Choices are a plus in the ID. The majority of the restaurants require no reservation. Just jump right in.
The restaurants serve food quickly. It’s a good thing especially when you are hungry. Sometimes, the food comes too fast that I have to tell the wait staff to hold some dishes.
While Japanese cuisine generally costs more than other Asian cuisines, you can find delicious Japanese food at great prices at Maneki Restaurant.
If you have kids, ID restaurants are ideal. Most kids make noise, and ID restaurant owners will accommodate your family situation.
It’s time to eat in the ID. Good luck on your food adventures.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.