Have yourself a staycation, shop for the holidays, and treat yourself all in one day, one neighborhood.
By Bao Nguyen
December 19, 2017
What would the holiday season be without proper eating and shopping? As always, Ethnic Seattle is here to bring your attention to the abundant small businesses owned by immigrants & minorities in our city. These businesses don’t just provide livelihood for their keepers; they make our lives more vibrant and interesting. It’s easy to do the usual – eat at a chain restaurant, shop at a big retailer or online. But we here at ES are never satisfied with the typical and we want to help you get off the beaten path.
Toward this goal, we’re starting a series called “Ethnic Seattle’s One Day Guide.” Each guide will focus on a different neighborhood and will be presented as a sample schedule for what you might do if you spend a whole day shopping & eating in one area. Our suggestions will focus on lesser-known businesses with the understanding that you can always visit the popular ones. We hope you’ll have a great time exploring ethnic Seattle.
Chinatown International District
The CID is steeped in history, not all of it good. In fact, the current location of Chinatown is not the original. When Chinese laborers came to Seattle in the early 1800s, they established a Chinese district in the area that is now Pioneer Square. But as tension caused by work shortage and racism spilled over, the Chinese were violently displaced to where Chinatown now stands. Since then, Chinatown has grown to embrace many subsequence immigrant communities and now, along with Japantown and Little Saigon, it makes up the neighborhood known as the International District.
It is nearly impossible to make restaurant recommendations for the CID as there are so many great places. It is hard to go wrong here. Instead, this guide will focus on different types of food you might encounter and a few popular places where you can find them.
// BREAKFAST //
Dim sum, which means “to touch the heart,” is an extravaganza for the senses. Small plates, usually served inside bamboo steamer baskets, come bearing bite-sized portions of food with all kinds of colors, textures, fragrances, and flavors. Dim sum developed over centuries in China and is typically eaten for breakfast but because good food is good any time of the day, you can now find dim sum around the clock. Most major Chinese restaurants in the CID serve dim sum daily from morning through lunch.
It can be intimidating for newcomers to the Vietnamese delis. No host for a guide, no waiter to answer questions, just a dazzling array food, snacks, drinks, and people seemingly arguing with each other. But these delis offer something restaurants often don’t: fast and delicious home-styled food. That and they also have banh mi and Vietnamese coffee, the best breakfast combo there is.
// LUNCH //
Pho & Noodles
The earliest written record of noodles dated back between 25 – 220 A.D. and there have been reported findings of noodles as old as 4000 years in China. I’m sure it was just as yummy thousands of years ago. Pho, the ubiquitous beef noodle soup from Vietnam, doesn’t need much explaining. But noodle houses are always good for a bowl of soul warming.
Uwajimaya food court
Uwajimaya is widely known as a great place to find all things Asian American, including groceries, household products, and gifts. But the food court and deli counter have an incredible selection of food made fresh and ready to go. Try a little bit of everything here!
// AFTERNOON PICKUP //
French pastries may be most well-known but here in the CID, you’ll discover that Chinese & Japanese baking is just as refined and delightful. Soft buns are often stuffed with fillings of both the sweet (coconut, custard) and savory (beans, meats) kinds. Cakes are also a little different, usually fluffier and uses lots of fruits.
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never had bubble tea before. That’s because you are about to discover a wonderful invention. Most drinks start with fresh brewed tea, hot or cold, which can then be blended with milk or sweetened, up to you. Last are the fun toppings: soft chewy tapioca pearls, fruity gels, silky grass jelly or egg pudding.
// DINNER //
Sushi & Poké
Sushi certainly can go without explaining now but Poké (po-kay), a newcomer in the raw fish food market, is definitely getting a lot of attention. Typically described as a “fish salad,” poké usually consists of raw cubed fish (tuna, salmon) or cooked octopus mixed with seasoning sauces (soy sauce, sesame oil, or spicy mayo) and other ingredients like sweet onions, green onions, seaweed.
The ultimate do-your-own-cooking experience, a hot pot meal consists of a simmering pot of broth at your table and an array of ingredients ready to be added and cooked. Order things like thin sliced meats, seafood, leafy vegetables, and wontons/dumplings to add to the broth. Once cooked, pluck them out enjoy with a savory dipping sauce. Best enjoyed as a group but can also be a two-person thing.
// SHOPPING //
MacPherson Leather: Everything you need to know about leather working is available at this family-owned retailer of leather products including saddles, horse tack & shoe supplies.
Kinokuniya: For the manga and anime lover, this Japanese-based retailer known for its collection of Asian books & magazines, plus DVDs & stationery, is a must visit. There is also a wide selection of great gift ideas.
Kobo Seattle: An artisan gallery featuring Japanese and Northwest fine crafts. KOBO specializes in both traditional and contemporary works, offering a selection of objects and functional forms in clay, fiber, metal, wood, textile, and paper.
Seattle Martial Arts Supplies: Have a Bruce Lee in your life? This store carries uniforms, equipment, and replica weapons of all kinds.
Plank & Grain: Furniture gallery specializing in hand-made wood furniture using old-growth lumber reclaimed from deconstructed buildings and warehouses around the Pacific Northwest
Moksha: Clothing store providing Seattle with fresh streetwear and progressive fashion from local designers as well as international finds.
Sun May: Tucked into Canton Alley and only open Friday & Saturday, this variety store requires some luck and planning to visit, but inside are treasures hard to find elsewhere. The store is a story in itself.