Directly across from the King Street bus and light rail station, enter the Chinatown-International District through the iconic entry gate on 5th Avenue and South King Street. Photo: Yvonne Worden.
New Year’s Eve at the Space Needle is always a fun and extravagant affair – whether by in person or on TV – but in 2017, I’ve started some new traditions. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to become a better staycationer by exploring new places in my own backyard.
My cultural and culinary curiosity led me this January to Seattle’s Chinatown International District, which was in full swing celebrating Lunar New Year. If you haven’t explored this neighborhood before, the Year of the Rooster is the perfect time to start. The district is easily accessible by Link light rail and public transit.
My appetite for Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines has been a lifelong love affair. With the transition into 2017, I’ve been daydreaming about dumplings. But not the ones you get at chains. Instead I’ve been craving something more authentic from smaller mom-and-pop operations. Seasonal food tours at The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience are the perfect resource for finding these hidden gems around Seattle. With three stories and 60,000 square feet of multicultural exhibits, the Wing Luke Museum is a must-go for familiarizing yourself with the neighborhood.
Year of the Rooster merchandise is displayed at Wing Luke Museum gift store and businesses throughout the neighborhood. Photo: Yvonne Worden.
The Year of the Rooster 2017 arrives just before the Wing Luke Museum’s 50th Anniversary. These milestones serve as good reminders to explore the Chinatown International District to discover what makes it one of the most diverse and remarkable neighborhoods in the city.
If you missed the Lunar New Year Fair this year, don’t despair. You can also ring in 2017 by taking the International Dumpling Tour offered Friday nights through March. Come back in spring for The Rice Stuff Tour, Grilled Things and Chicken Wings tour in the summer or the Noodle Slurp Tour in fall. If you’re a sweet tooth, don’t miss the Asian Sweets Tour. For more cultural exploration, take the Touch of Chinatown Tour, which branches out from the museum to local shops and landmarks.
The Wing Luke Museum’s food tours are designed to connect visitors with local residents they otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to meet, with an emphasis on storytelling and creating cross-cultural bonds.
This curtain that hangs in the Wing Luke Museum theatre auditorium is a relic from the early 20th century. Each block on the curtain advertises businesses that were in the neighborhood. Photo: Yvonne Worden.
My sister Carly and I arrived to the International Dumpling Crawl with sizable appetites, and we weren’t disappointed with our two-and-a-half-hour feast that spread across several venues in the city. I was excited to see a lively crowd of about 30 people of different ages, races and backgrounds arrive at the museum for the tour. Since the group was so big, we were split in half and took different routes around the district. The Wing Luke Museum works with around 60 local businesses on its food tours. As keepsakes, each guest receives a dumpling cheat sheet listing what each restaurant served on the tour. Now I’m determined to circle back and hit the restaurants the other half of the group visited.
The dumpling crawl starts with a short presentation in the Wing Luke Museum theatre. The curtain hanging in the theatre is among the museum’s prized historical artifacts. When it first hung at a neighborhood movie theatre in the early 20th Century, each square on the curtain advertised different local businesses, a couple of which still exist today.
These gyoza at the Fu Lin restaurant have are crispy on the outside and have a delicious taste and texture. Photo: Yvonne Worden
The first stop on our route was Fu Lin Restaurant (512 S King Street), right by the Chinatown International-District’s iconic entry gate. My sister and I are regular teriyaki goers and we’ll always order a plate of gyoza to share, but the potstickers at Fu Lin were a major step up for us. Our guide told us the texture of gyoza shouldn’t be too stretchy or chewy – they need to be crispier on the outside and soft and delicate on the inside. According to these guidelines, Fu Lin’s gyoza gets top marks.
After each gyoza was reverently chewed and swallowed, we went next door to Ping’s Dumpling House (508 S King Street). The servers brought out Xiao Long Bao, lamb dumplings, and chive, egg and mushroom dumplings. Our ravenous group had no trouble emptying these aromatic, steaming baskets. Glancing at everyone else, it was clear that any one of us could have eaten everything on the table.
Servers at Szechuan Noodle bowl bring out a variety of dumplings, such as spicy pork or chive and tofu dumplings. Soup dumplings are many customers’ favorite. Photo: Yvonne Worden.
But we were nowhere close to finished. After Ping’s Dumpling House we walked up a few blocks to Szechuan Noodle Bowl (420 8th Ave S), admiring nighttime views of the Seattle skyline and storefront windows along the way. Szechuan Noodle Bowl served hot tea, spicy pork dumplings, and chive and tofu dumplings. I’m a fan of the dumpling crawl format because you can work up an appetite between venues. The anticipation of dumplings from one to the next is delectably stimulating.
Wing Luke Museum food tour guide Rahul Gupta tells the group where to find the best family-run markets and products before entering the last restaurant on the tour. Photo: Yvonne Worden.
Lastly we walked down to Harbor City Restaurant (707 S King Street) for a finale of pan fried shrimp cake and steamed lotus seed buns for dessert. In addition to the dumplings, our guide’s commentary about the intricacies of dumpling preparation and discussions about the local history made for a delicious, educational evening. My sister and I will definitely be back for more, likely with several more friends and family members in tow.
As amazing as dumpling crawling is, don’t miss out on the Wing Luke Museum’s exhibitions. This year also marks the third and final year of the Do You Know Bruce exhibit. Seattle is the only city outside of Hong Kong to present an exhibition about Bruce Lee. The current installation A Year in the Life of Bruce Lee features Lee’s personal diary entries, drawings, videos of his workout routines, as well as books from his personal library.
Bruce Lee has a significant Seattle history. He first came to the Emerald City as an 18 year old with just $100 in his pocket, but he eventually graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Washington. He opened his first martial arts studio in the University District and had his first date with his wife Linda on top of the Space Needle. Any Seattleite would agree it’s kick-ass cool to share the city with such an icon.
The Wing Luke Museum’s Day in the Life of Bruce Lee exhibit features a room resembling the Hall of Mirrors in the famous Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon. Photo: Yvonne Worden.
Photos are not allowed in the exhibit, but take notes of your favorite Bruce Lee facts, quotes and takeaways in the handouts available at the entrance. The exhibit ends in the Hall of Mirrors, which resembles the set in Enter the Dragon. It’s the only place where you’re allowed to take pictures, so snap some shots of your reflection bouncing across the mirrors.
Bruce Lee was one of the most creative and physically-dynamic artists of the past century. The exhibit showcases how organized and motivated Bruce Lee was in his daily life. Prepare to be amazed by Lee’s mental and physical skills and to let his wisdom inspire some of your own New Year’s resolutions.
With these rewarding explorations under my belt, I enter the Year of the Rooster with some new favorite restaurants, a deeper understanding of Seattle’s cultural diversity and some powerful insights from Bruce Lee. It’s a privilege to live somewhere with such a diverse international district with so many cultural offerings. It should be on everyone’s bucket list this year. Without further ado, Gung Hay Fat Choy, and happy exploring!
For more information about programs and exhibitions at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, visit http://www.wingluke.org/.