By: Jacklyn Tran
March 28, 2016
Highlighting a diverse swath of restaurants in the Rainier Valley, Plate of Nations is an annual dining event that pulls in ravenous eaters from all over. That comes as no surprise with such eclectic, mouthwatering menus. But beyond the idea that is just another “foodie” food festival,—as truly delicious as it certainly is—are the equally compelling stories behind these locally owned businesses. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to highlight some of the inspiring women of Plate of Nations.
At Momona Cafe and Restaurant, Letina Tewolde’s cooking is “the food that I cooked in my country” she says, speaking of her Eritrean home and Tigrean culture. The food of Eritrean and Ethiopia are similar with a few historic differences. For more than 60 years, beginning in the late nineteenth century, Eritrea was colonized by Italy thus leaving their mark on the cuisine and people. Receiving an education from a cooking school at an Italian Nunnery in Eritrea, Tewolde learned classic Italian techniques in conjunction with Eritrean. Today, she implements them at Momona Cafe where large platters of injera (the national dish of Eritrea and Ethiopia), a thin, spongy, sourdough-like flatbread, is served with various combinations of lentils and vegetables, fish or lamb tibs which is a stew-like stirfry, and to be eaten family style.
Thai Savon chef/owner, Faye George, began serving up Thai and Laotian fare in December 2014. However her love for food started long before that. “When I first came here in the ‘80s, I didn’t speak any English at all” said George. “On the weekends, I would help at the Laotian temple, helping the older ladies cook and that’s how I got started. Some of the dishes I liked I adopted and I would mix and match ingredients so they would taste how I like.” And it appears many people liked her flavorful twists on those dishes.
For seven years George catered events for the tight-knit Laotian community on weekdays and ran her food truck, Faye’s Kitchen, on weekends. When she set her roots in a Rainier Valley brick-and-mortar space her hope was to bring traditional Lao cuisine to the younger population who craved the food of their culture. “The reason I want to sell Thai food is that most places make it too sweet,” notes George, adding that, “when I cook mine the way we do at home, I eliminate a lot of sugar and people love that. It’s the way it should be.”
Many are beginning to take notice as Seattle Met named Thai Savon one of the best new Asian restaurants in their February issue this year. Last year, Plate of Nations was a good if not a tad overwhelming for George, explaining, “so many people came in and I didn’t know what to expect! I think this year we’re going to see even more new faces too. Last year people came from all over. There were some from DuPont and Sumner and up north as far as Everett and some from Redmond.” No matter the distance, they’ve acquired some lifelong, repeat customers.
At Café Ibex, Tina Tenagne Gashe, who immigrated to Seattle from Ethiopia in 1997, recreates the restaurant that her and her husband once had in Ethiopia. The family-owned and family-run business speaks to the art of cooking in which Gashe’s passion for the flavors and aromas of Ethiopian food means thoughtful meals and tasty dishes stemmed from perfected recipes.“This is my community, where I live, shop and raise my kids,” she shared with the MLK Business Association. “This is the food that I make at home for my family and friends.”
Find more details about Plate of Nations, which runs from March 25 to April 10, at their event website.