A food survival guide for new Chinese arrivals in Seattle

Wanjun Zhu is holding a plate of spicy rice cakes, and a plate of fried chicken at the Taiwanese Night Market. (Photo by Xinyi Xiong)
Wanjun Zhu is holding a plate of spicy rice cakes, and a plate of fried chicken at the Taiwanese Night Market. (Photo by Xinyi Xiong)

One of the biggest adjustments for Chinese international students and other new arrivals from China in Seattle is the food. I learned from experience that Chinese new arrivals have to balance longing for the familiar tastes of home and adjusting to Seattle’s local food scene.

I had to struggle with the same challenge in my first year here in Seattle. I’m sure I’m not alone. Chinese is the largest group of Asian people in Seattle — making up 31.18 percent of the local Asian population, according to USA.com. 

From my experience, I’ve come up with four tips which can help new Chinese arrivals adjust to eating in Seattle.

Start with familiar tastes

The first few weeks while settling down in Seattle are often tough. Eating food that you are familiar with can help calm your anxiety and fill your energy tank with familiar tastes.

Many new Chinese arrivals worry that the only things to eat in the United States will be pizzas, burgers or sandwiches 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In Seattle, that’s not true. Finding Chinese restaurants with dishes you like can help prepare you physically and mentally ready for a new start.

Wanjun Zhu, a junior Communication major at the University of Washington, loves to go to Boiling Point for a Taiwanese Spicy Soup with Hokkaido milk tea with Boba. She discovered Boiling Point when she first arrived in Seattle.

“Hot pot is my holy grail food because I am from Chongqing, where is famous for its hot pot,” Zhu said.

Zhu favorite at Boiling Point is Taiwanese Spicy Soup, which is similar to traditional hot pot and satisfied her need for spice.

“I felt more belonged to the city when I was able to find some tastes that I am familiar with, even though they were not exactly the same,” Zhu says.

Ask locals where to go — and try “fusion” restaurants

Rice paper rolls from Stateside. (Photo by Yanqing Lou)
Rice paper rolls from Stateside. (Photo by Yanqing Lou)

After you’ve settled down, you can start exploring the diversity food choices around the Seattle area — and the art of fusion food.

Anne-Marie Gloster, from the School of Public Health here at the University of Washington, suggests that eating out would be helpful in terms of getting to know the city better.

“I usually do not go to the top-rated restaurants for tourists. Having some local people around and hearing from them is more realistic,” Gloster says. She uses Yelp to find locations, but not as a guide.

Yanqing Lou, the first year Chinese graduate student majoring construction management at the University of Washington, enjoys trying out restaurants with friends. One of her favorite experiences would be trying out a Vietnamese restaurant Stateside with her friends who are Vietnamese.

“I tried the most amazing rice paper rolls, and also learned the culture behind the food through my Vietnamese friends, which was a bonus for sure,” Lou says.

Local food festivals are another place to experience a lot of different types of food.

Zhu said the “Taiwanese Night Market” was amazing not only for its food but its atmosphere.

“It was fabulous. There were so many food choices with really affordable prices. A great chance to try out local food, and I would never be regretful even (though) I ate way too much,” Zhu says.

Markets are a good place to explore

Exploring local markets is fun because there are fresh ingredients with good prices. Moreover, it’s fun to talk to people at local markets who have expertise in the local ingredients.

Gloster loves stopping by local markets whenever she is in a new place. Even just walking around helps you learn more about the local food, and also learn things about regional food and specialties.

“As for most of the new arrivals, getting food from local markets will lower the costs of food, but also making sure that the freshness of food is guaranteed,” Gloster says.

Recreate recipes from home — and try new ones

Although eating out usually leads to a great start, cooking at home is still necessary especially for new Chinese arrivals who are trying to save money. In Seattle, many neighborhoods have markets with fresh ingredients, which will be less expensive than eating out all the time. The cooking process also provides an opportunity to gather family and friends together.

“I always have recipes with me when I am traveling to a new place because at least I can make something to eat,” Gloster says.

Zhu also feels the same when it comes to cooking. She got a few recipes from her mom before she left China. So now when she is homesick, she is able to recreate the tastes from home.

Lou, however, is obsessed with searching recipes online or on cooking apps.

“Now I am able to reach out to more food choices, then I would definitely try out more recipes from all over the world by myself with less expensive ingredients. Why not?” Lou says.

Yanqing Lou is looking for a new recipe on her favorite cooking app while drinking milk tea. (Photo by Xinyi Xiong)
Yanqing Lou is looking for a new recipe on her favorite cooking app while drinking milk tea. (Photo by Xinyi Xiong)
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