Last weekend, a friend told me I just had to check out the Lunar New Year Festival in the International District of Seattle. Having never actually had the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year before, and with the promise of a “street food walk”, I knew I had to check it out.
The Street Food Walk began with picking up a map at the info booth, which provided a listing of all restaurants participating in the event. You could read through the list, seeing which restaurants were open, as well as what menu items were on special – $2 per item. Because I was there with a vegetarian friend, we tried to tailor our day to visiting only the restaurants that offered both meat and vegetarian-friendly items. Our first stop was Pings, for pork dumplings and veggie dumplings.
The Pros: the people at Pings were obviously prepared for the day’s crowds and lineups, and pretty quickly got people through the line with dumplings in hand. My pork dumplings had really great flavour, with a lot of diversity in the ingredients yet not overpowering. I could definitely eat a bunch of these dumplings. And at $2 per serving (4 dumplings), it was good value for the money.
The Cons: the sauce they offered that you could pour over was SOOOO strong with a heavy raw garlic taste. It was also heavily vinegar-based, so the raw garlic with the sour vinegar was way too much. I found myself trying to get the sauce to drip off the dumplings before eating them. Additionally, the veggie dumplings seemed to be filled almost entirely with cabbage, and my friend was pretty unimpressed by the flavour. This seems to be a familiar plight for vegetarians, where the vegetarian “version” of a regular item is less thought-out as far as flavours go.
The next stop was Dim Sum King, for a “dim sum sampler”.
The Pros: again, for $2, getting a sampler of 3 different, good-sized dim sum items was really great value for money. My sampler included a steamed chicken bun, a pork siu mai dumpling, and a sesame and red bean ball. I chowed down on everything, enjoying all the flavours. Although I likely wouldn’t go to Dim Sum King for a regular Sunday dim sum (I’m pretty loyal to the quality and affordability of Jade Garden – if anyone in Seattle wants to go with me, hit me up because I’ll go every weekend), this was great for the price.
The Cons: again, the big problem here was a lack of vegetarian options, and my friend was entirely confined to having them make her a sampler of just the pastries (2 egg tarts and a sesame ball). On the one hand, of course finding vegetarian dim sum items is tough, because everything is almost always meat-based. However, in a city like Seattle that is full of vegetarians, it seems silly to not include some other veg-type foods.
At this point, we were tired of spending so much time lined up at each vendor that we called it quits (we were also super carb loaded and full). I’m hoping next year the festival organizers will consider adapting the model of having the vendors set up little stands along one block, where visitors can walk along and more efficiently try samples from each restaurant. Otherwise, if I go next year, I’ll definitely get there a lot earlier to try and zip between the vendors to get to try more things. All in all, it was a really fun, energetic event, with dragon dancers, great food, and a welcoming energy.