By: Taylor Hoang – Ethnic Seattle

October 21, 2015

Seattle is known for its melting pot of cultures along with their rich culinary cuisines.  Here you will find everything from Cuban sandwiches, to steaming bowls of pho, Ethiopian injera bread and all American clam chowders.  It’s really hard to mention Seattle’s culinary food scene without mentioning its beloved chef Tom Douglas.  Tom’s creativity with local ingredients and his incorporation of ethnic cuisines in his restaurants have helped put his restaurants and Seattle on the national stage.

I first met Tom when I opened my SODO Pho Cyclo Café in 2003.  As he sat enjoying his food, my staff and I were teetering on our toes with anticipation and expectation awaiting any sign that would indicate his approval of our food.  That day he didn’t say much except to leave a big tip, smiled his gentle smile, and lifted his hand in a wave as he left.   We felt a bit anxious, a bit proud that he DID come in after all, and that perhaps, if we were lucky, he would be back again.  Little did we know that a week later he spoke of us on his radio show and gave us glowing reviews, and a few months after, placed an order for 150 Banh mi sandwiches for his Christmas party!  For a little unknown Vietnamese restaurant open less than a few months, that was a big deal!

Twelve years later, not much has changed about Tom, perhaps he’s a bit busier with his rapidly growing empire, his never ending community and philanthropy work, and his insatiable quest to inspire a new generation of chefs and home cooks.  But through it all, Tom still gets out to support his local restaurants and communities. On any given day, you may find him at one of the many mom-and-pop owned restaurants around town in areas such as the International Districts or Columbia City. and I recently had a great opportunity to sit down with Tom at Hing Hay Coworks where their gracious staff made a comfortable space for us to enjoy lunch and chat with Tom about his love of ethnic food and how he perceives ethnic culture and cuisine fitting into Seattle’s everyday life.

Tom Douglas talks to Ethnic Seattle’s Taylor Hoang at Hing Hay Coworks.

I was curious to discover what essential ethnic ingredients may occupy Tom’s pantry, so we took a stroll down the aisles of Beacon Hill’s ethnic market, Fou Lee Market to find out.  While there, we savored fresh produce, and sampled varieties, as well as different types of curries –a perfect option to cook up for a cold northwest evening.

Afterward, we journeyed to Amy’s Merkato, an East African market and bakery in the Central District and were delighted by its hidden treasures.  We couldn’t help but explore and inhale the aromatic herbs and spices that lined the shelves of this small store.  And finally, after a long day of exploration, the simple act of sitting down to a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony offered by the store’s owner Judy was not only a welcome chance to rest our feet, but also to converse with Judy about her family’s life; both here in Seattle and Ethiopia.

Judy from Amy’s Merkato describes some of the Ethiopian spices her store sells.

Like any booming metropolitan city in the country, dynamic Seattle has had its fair share of issues and problems.  No doubt anyone that has had to deal with these daily issues can come up with a long list of grievances.  But on a day such as this, when it is pouring down rain, with peaks of sunlight breaking though-struggling to hold on to the last days of summer – I can’t help but feel blessed to be surrounded by such wonders and beauty and the amazing cultures and ethnicity around me.  There is so much to learn and explore, one doesn’t have to travel the world, but just look beyond our own neighborhoods and into the neighboring communities to experience it. video series with Tom will guide you to the best of the best, but it will also let you take a glimpse into the ever-blending cultural diversity of our city and the common thread that binds us, also sets in a class of its own: a world class city.  

Part 1 of Tom Douglas Video Series