Gene Balk of the Seattle Times has observed that
Seattle's “patronage of
Chinese restaurants is surprisingly low.” Perhaps the sad truth that Seattle
still thinks in terms of “Chinese restaurants” has something to do with the
city’s lack of enthusiasm for “Chinese food” That “Seattle foodie circles” are
excited about the opening of a Taiwanese food chain that specializes in
Shanghai soup dumplings points out exactly how unsophisticated these foodies
are about food from China.
In a city that prides itself on its Northwest cuisine, as opposed to Southern or East Coast or Tex-Mex or Cajun, it seems bizarre that “Chinese food” is still a category.
Sichuan, Hunan, Beijing, Uighur, Yunnan, are only a few of the regional cuisines found in China. None of them are to be found
in Seattle, a
city where dim sum, barbecued pork and poultry, chow fun, potstickers, and
hotpot--oh and rice too, lots and lots of rice-- are what people eat when they eat “Chinese.”
I live in Seattle’s Chinatown and I like to eat out, but I stopped going to Chinese restaurants in my neighborhood years ago, There’s a limit to the amount of chow fun I can choke down with any enthusiasm at all; as for dim sum, if I want to eat it, I’ll wait until I’m in Hong Kong—or perhaps San Francisco.
Restaurants who claim to serve
food ignore the key ingredient, Sichuan
pepper, in favor of drowning the dishes in chili oil. Hunan food? Well, people tell me, there was
a place out on Aurora,
but it’s not there anymore. Restaurants that try to give Seattle
something different from the usual “Chinese” menu usually suffer the same fate
as that Hunan place on Aurora. The China Club Bistro across from
Kinokuniya Books on Weller Street served a nice little Shanghai soup dumpling,
aka xiao long bao, as a bar snack. The past three times I’ve gone there, the
place has been closed; “on vacation” the sign said. My guess is it was just a
little too “Chinese” for Seattle, certainly every time I went there, it was usually quite underpopulated.
Restaurants who claim to serve
There’s a spot up on 10th and
called Uway Malatang that cooks with Sichuan
pepper, but if you aren’t Chinese, you have to be sure to let them know that
you want it. It’s a condiment that makes your tongue tingle, moving on to your
lips—it’s not pepper in any sense that you might already think you know. It’s
the happiest spice I’ve ever eaten, and if you want to try it, you’d better
hurry before Uway Malatang also goes “on vacation.”
Today I passed half a dozen “Chinese” bakeries that all sell the same things—Cantonese buns, egg tarts, and slices of cake with elaborate fillings (durian anyone?)—and as I walked, I wanted nothing more than a
Beijing bakery. Delicate
little cookies like shortbread, but not too sweet; round, flaky pastries filled
with something savory, others containing a sweetened date paste; flatbread and
circular bagel-like rolls—these were exactly what I wanted and can’t get in
this city. But then if one opened here, it would be hard to convince people
that it was truly “Chinese.”
Me? If I want to eat soup dumplings, I’ll put my money on a dive in
rather than a chain in a shopping mall. And if I want to eat food from China, you won’t find me in a “Chinese”
restaurant; in fact I’ll probably be eating somewhere in China. But then
“American” food is found in a Kenny Rogers Roaster, or at a pastry counter in a
Starbucks. Yes, imperialist running dogs, that’s what your cuisine is to the
people in China.
Funny, isn’t it? How unsophisticated--don't "they" know better than that?