Celebrate Chinese New Year in Seattle

  • Thu Jan 23rd, 2014 5:57pm
  • Life

By Andrea Brown The Herald

Got plans for Chinese New Year?

Now you do.

Seattle’s bustling Chinatown-International District is the place to rein in the Year of the Horse.

Celebrate with Vietnamese dragon dances, Japanese Taiko drumming, Filipino drill team, martial artists, paper lanterns, costume contest parade and firecrackers to kick off the Lunar New Year.

Festivities begin at 11 a.m. Feb. 1 in the area east of Hing Hay Park on Maynard Avenue S. and the red Chinatown gate on S. King Street.

But if you can’t make the party, don’t worry. The Asian cultural hub is a vibrant place to visit all year. There’s always something to do, day or night, rain or shine.

Sing karaoke. Shop at the modern mega market, Uwajimaya. Sit at the counter where Bruce Lee ate. Play ping-pong in the park. Experiment with traditional herbal remedies. Savor some roasted duck or munch on fortune cookies, hot off the griddle.

“The district has a history and a vibe all its own,” said May Nguyen, a tour guide at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.

“It’s made of businesses and people growing and changing all the time.”

A guided walking tour is a good way to navigate the barrage of colorful sights, sounds and aromas. Those short on time can try a self-guided tour using strategically placed information poles throughout the district.

When the weather is cold and gray, there’s nothing like hot tea and steamy noodles to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

At Jade Garden and other district dim sum eateries, carts whiz to and fro, tempting patrons with bowls, baskets and small plates of shrimp cakes, dumplings, steamed buns, spicy squash and chicken feet.

It takes the guesswork out of ordering off a menu, and there’s no waiting. Just point to what looks good.

It’s no wonder dim sum means “heart’s delight.” Two can eat to their hearts’ delight for about $20 at Jade Garden.

Craving a ham sandwich, Russian borscht and a banana split at 3 a.m.? No problem. It’s on the world cuisine menu at Purple Dot Cafe, alongside Japanese braised tofu and deep fried quail.

Many eateries are open until the wee hours on weekends, when the district gets a second wind from hungry revelers.

Still, it’s more than a feeding stop.

“Chinatown is a place where people live,” Nguyen said. “It’s always been a place where people live. Especially for the immigrant generation, it’s a comfortable place to be.”

The district respects and embraces the past and the future.

“It’s continuing to grow and evolve,” Nguyen said. “It shows a modern Asia, a change in Asia. There are assumptions that Chinatowns are always going to be traditional places. The world never stays the same, so why expect it to be the same all the time here?”

Among the constants: The sweet, vanilla aroma wafting outside the fortune cookie and noodle factory on S. Weller Street.

“We make about 80,000 cookies a day,” Tsue Chong Company owner Timothy Louie said. “I’m fourth-generation. I grew up knowing the business. My great-grandfather started the business in 1917. Then my grandfather took over, then my dad.”

The factory is a fusion of the old and the new. “We follow the American lifestyle, the American scheduling. We have evenings and weekends off instead of working seven, 12-hour days,” Louie said.

The same four main ingredients — flour, salt, water and eggs — are used to make 17 different noodle lines and wonton wrappers sold to businesses in the Pacific Northwest.

Fortune cookies have expanded to flavors such as mocha, strawberry and ginger.

The fortunes are created, cut and printed in the San Francisco Bay area. “It’s not a little wise guy typing them up in a back room,” Louie joked.

Making the cookies requires a human touch, though less than in his grandma’s day.

“Prior to the machines, it involved my grandmother hand-folding them,” Louie said. “It is still quite hands-on. There are automated processes, and that is the future.”

Nothing goes to waste.

When life gives you flat, broken or irregular cookies, what do you do?

“We created what is called the ‘Unfortunate Cookie,’” Louie said.

A 5-pound bag of the edible rejects goes for $7.25 at the factory retail shop, which also sells other products.

So, if you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions, consider Chinese New Year a second chance.

Start fresh by learning about something old, experiencing something new, trying tasty food and watching kung-fu.

Celebrate the Year of the Horse at the Chinese Lunar New Year Festival, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 1 in the International District with parades, martial arts, drills, dances and a food walk. Many restaurants will offer a variety of $2 tastes. For more information, go to www.cidbia.com.

The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, 719 S. King St., has cultural, and historical exhibits. The museum’s walking tours include Taste of Chinatown, Touch of Chinatown, and Bitter and Sweet Tour.

Tours are not include included in museum admission. For more information, call 206-623-5124 or go to www.wingluke.org.

The Wing Luke Museum will have a free lion dance at 11 a.m. Saturday in front of the museum.

Tsue Chong Company, 800 S. Weller St., has a retail store and offers factory tours to groups. For more information, call 206-623-0801 or go to www.tsuechong.com.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com.