Taste, shop, and make friends in Chinatown's International District

Steven R. Lorton

It's Monday morning, and South King Street in Seattle'sChinatown is buzzing. Behind the counter at the Ten Ren Tea Co. (506 S. King St.; 206/749-9855), Jennifer Wong isinstructing patrons on the qualities of green tea―it's best,she says, when brewed at 180°; otherwise it becomesbitter.

A few doors down, at A Piece of Cake (514 S. King; 206/623-8284), Mindy Shi describes thetraditional fillings in Hong Kong-style pastries―wintermelon, red bean, lotus paste―before advising me to stick withthe walnut and date―probably the tastiest for my palate, shesays knowingly.

Across the street, Nancy Tang presides over sales at a curioshop called the Jade Bamboo (507 S. King; 206/381-8870). Among her store's shelves arelittle Chinese characters known as mud men, collectible clayfigurines representing fishermen, scholars, and musicians.

Centered at the south end of downtown Seattle, theChinatown/International District is the fulcrum of the Northwest'sAsian American culture. The district spans more than 40 blocks andis home to Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Laotian, Thai,and Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants.

It's an area worth visiting not only for its food and shoppingbut also for the rich array of human encounters. "It's like beingin another country," says Ann-Marie Stillion, an assistant editorat the Northwest Asian Weekly, whose Chinatown offices house aninformation center. "You come here to eat, to experience, tolearn."

Dim sum, dinner, and more
Set aside a day to wander the Chinatown/InternationalDistrict where huge, colorful dragons coil around the lampposts.Enjoy a huge selection of dim sum ― served every day ―at the House of Hong.

Next, visit the Wing Luke Asian Museum, whose changing shows andpermanent exhibits celebrate Asian American culture. The museum wasthe first Northwest affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution andwas named for a Seattle City Council member, the first ChineseAmerican elected to public office in the Northwest.

Spend the afternoon shopping, strolling, and chatting. Havedinner at Tai Tung or the Sea Garden Seafood Restaurant. Afterward,if the house lights are on at the Northwest Asian American Theatre,take in a live performance. The company produces plays, readings,and musical performances and also hosts a film festival, all basedon the experiences of Asian Americans.

Other pockets of Asia in Seattle

Though the Chinatown/International District is home to Seattle'slargest Asian American population, other Chinese AmericanCommunities merit quick visits if you happen to be nearby. Tenminutes from downtown Seattle at South Seattle Community College,the 6-acre Seattle Chinese Garden is a work in progress. Here, theSong Mei Pavilion, a tranquil place to sit and relax, is surroundedby more than 100 kinds of plants native to China. The pavilion isthe first of many structures planned for the site. The garden willenter its second construction phase in early 2004.

About 20 miles south of Seattle, near the town of Renton, is theGreat Wall Mall. Many Chinese immigrants have recently settled inthis area, now home to a large Asian market, restaurants, and anexcellent bookstore with a great collection of Chinese greetingcards. Within the mall, an exotic-looking herb shop, AA PacificHerbs (415/251-8257), sells everything from antlers toginseng.

Culinary and cultural tour

Chinatown extends from Fourth Avenue South east to Interstate 5,and runs from Yesler Way south to South Dearborn Street. Adjoiningthis district is an area that has become known as Little Saigon,extending under the freeway east to Rainier Avenue South, and fromSouth Jackson Street south to South Dearborn Street.

An information center is located in the offices of the Northwest Asian Weekly (9-5:30 Mon-Fri; 412 Maynard Ave. S.; www.nwasianweekly.com or206/223-5559). Visit www.seattlechinatown.org for more details and an areamap.

ATTRACTIONS

The Great Wall Mall. 18230 E. Valley Rd., Kent; www.greatwallmall.com or(425) 251-1600. From Seattle take I-5 south to State 167, then takeEast Valley Rd. and drive south about 1/2 mile.

Northwest Asian American Theatre. No shows were scheduledfor April at press time; call the theater to find out aboutupcoming programs. Housed in the Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S.; www.nwaat.com or (206)340-1445.

Seattle Chinese Garden. 6000 16th Ave. S.W.; www.seattle-chinese-garden.orgor (206) 282-8040.

Wing Luke Asian Museum. Playing for Keeps: Asian Pacific Americans in Sports willrun April 18-November 16. Closed Mon; $4. 407 Seventh Ave. S.; www.wingluke.org or (206)623-5124.

DINING

Excellent restaurants abound in Chinatown. Many serve dim sum onweekends; a few serve it daily. Here are four of our favorites.

Honey Court Seafood Restaurant. Feast on fresh crab takenlive from the tank, deep-fried black cod, or steamed tilapia, witha generous side of Chinese greens. 516 Maynard Ave. S.; (206) 292-8828.

House of Hong. Brunch served daily. 409 Eighth Ave. S.; (206) 622-7997.

Sea Garden Seafood Restaurant. The baked crab in black beansauce and the lobster with ginger and green onions are said to bethe best this side of Shanghai. 509 Seventh Ave. S.; (206) 623-2100.

Tai Tung. Try the ja jang mien, a bowl of thick, deliciously spiced noodles. 655 S. King St.; (206) 622-7372.

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