Travel Far While Staying Local
Take in a World of Culture through cuisines from around the globe
BY ELLEN HIATT
Take a few days and travel the world. Go from Hungary to Africa, and just as quickly from the Philippines to Mexico, India to Japan. And do it all without buying a plane ticket. Bring your taste buds for this culinary tour, and taste something from nearly every region of the world.
Snohomish County is home to a wide variety of immigrants cooking up spicy stews, serving seaweed and fish for island flavors, simmering down chilies for maximum punch.
Marysville resident Monica Gorman recently took a Culinary Immigration class, turning out authentic tamales with Victoria Balas. The peppers and tomatillos already roasted, Balas tossed them into a blender while she talked about the complexity of flavors in Mexican cuisine.
“I love mole or I wouldn’t be going on so graphically about it!” Balas said. Gorman smeared masa dough onto a corn husk, topped it with shredded chicken with green salsa, and rolled them up tight, securing each one with a little knotted ribbon of husk.
“When I travel even in the United States, I really try to get off the beaten path and find restaurants that are locally-owned. Food is better, service is better, the atmosphere is better. It’s a more fun experience,” Gorman says.
Her Filipino son-in-law has introduced her to new foods, as family members did for Balas.
“Each marriage has brought into our lives different cultures,” Balas says. Her love of food and the experiences she gained through travel and family led her to create culinary immigration cooking classes, teaching authentic recipes that locals can create in their own kitchens.
Balas works to create recipes that allow for substitutions from the local store or an area ethnic grocer. There are many markets in Edmonds’ International District, including the well-stocked Boo Han, stuffed to the gills with everything Asian cooking, including the woks. Ranch 99 is the largest in the area — a no-frills Asian market where a Caucasian westerner is clear they’ve stepped into another world. They serve up barbecue duck from the deli, live lobsters and fish, and every part of the chicken is in the meat case. They’ll dip a net into the fish tank, filet and cook up your catch behind the counter. Go ahead and order an entire roasted pig for your next party. From Marysville to Bothell, there is an Asian, Mexican, or Mediterranean specialty shop.
When you’re not in the mood for cooking, the mom and pop restaurants are ready to serve.
Visit Edmonds for the Mediterranean perfections of Chef Shahzad’s Caravan Kebab, Caribbean creations of Calypso Edmonds, where the jerk chicken and conch fritters star, and Maize & Barley’s for Cuban sandwiches, Arepa Con Queso and Tembleque, a Puerto Rican coconut milk custard.
Head up to Highway 99 and the International District for the Asian tour of fishy, spicy, crunchy. Look for Ono Poke’s mouth watering Hawaiian bowls of raw fish goodness, or find Korean barbecue, Thai curries, Pandan waffles, bubble tea, ramen noodles, hand-pulled Biang-biang noodles, Vietnamese Yeh Yeh’s Banh Mi sandwiches and Japanese sushi. Kuzma’s Fish Market is a district stand-out for fine, freshly-caught seafood, poke bowls and live crabs, lobster and fish.
There is no shortage of rightful Mexican restaurants from one end of the county to the other. Skip the cheese-heavy chains and go where you know the food is legit. Taqueria Mi Cocina in Stanwood is a go-to spot for locals of all ethnic groups. La Terraza is as legitimate as you get in Marysville, or look for their food trucks. Birrieria Tijuana in Everett serves up birria-everything, including quesabrosas stuffed with suadero, a thinly cut meat. Las Tres Maria in Monroe may well have the best molcajete, a stew of shrimp, fish and scallops in a mildly spicy sauce.
And for the ultimate in mama’s home cookin’ comfort food, there’s always Italian. Start with the neighborhood favorites: Capers + Olives or Lombardi’s in Everett… Cristiano’s in Marysville… Bucatini or Fire & The Feast in Edmonds… Grazie in Bothell. Just think about that chicken marsala, calzones, lasagne bolognese, tiramisu.
For some European heartiness, try Piroshky and Crepes, a European Cafe and Bakery in Everett with sweet and savory options, and a perfect bowl of borscht. It’s a sweet place for a tea party, too.
Ready for dessert? Top off your crepes with German style eaux-de-vie brandy from Stanwood’s Öömrang, a 100-acre working estate modeled after the traditional farming estates of northern and southern Germany.
Finally, explore some First Nations food and try some Indian Fry Bread with Ryan’s REZ-ipes Food Truck & Catering. Check his Facebook for when it rotates back on the menu. Tulalip Tribal member Ryan Gobin received his fry bread recipe from his Grandma Nonie before she passed. Frybread originated with the Navajo Nation using government issued staples, and has become part of Indian Country food nationwide, with every family’s recipe unique.
“I’ve learned through the years that the only way to perfect fry bread is by making it with a kind heart and warm energy,” Gobin says.
“Food, love and laughter is what brings us all together,” Gobin adds.
And that’s a fact all around the world.
SHIMA JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Dan and Nari Chung have been rolling fresh sushi since they bought Stanwood’s Shima Japanese Restaurant from her parents, who operated it after 25 years of owning sushi bars in Ballard. The family’s connections with quality fish purveyors from Seattle means access to the best quality fish. Dedicated locals are thrilled to have world class sushi in town, and Seattleites make the drive north. Reviewer Jessica H. of Wallingford asks Nari for her recommendations, usually sashimi, and raves about Dan’s chirashi bowl: “as delicious as it looked. Pair it with some cold sake and it’s the most epic meal… I seriously love this place!”
10007 270th ST. NW, Stanwood, WA | 360-629-7799 shimastanwood.com
TAJ GRILL N’ SPICE
Traditional Indian music will greet you as warmly as the hostess, Manjeet Kaur. As a vegetarian she recommends the creamy Eggplant Bharta or the flavorful Paneer Chili Masala, with bell peppers, onions and herbs. The lamb chops are divine, smothered in spices and cooked to tender perfection. Manjeet’s husband and son are the chefs behind the heavenly smells coming from the kitchen, where they cook up the Northern Indian food of their native Punjab. The menu is expansive with flavorful curries and saffron flecked rice with bits of cumin. The surprisingly refreshing Banta soda with fresh mint, lemon juice, smoked cumin seeds and black salt will balance the rich meal.
2310 WA 530, Arlington | 360-322-4360 tajgrillnspice.com
The temps may have cooled, but the island vibe is right next door. Pull up a chair at Barkada Edmonds for Filipino and Hawaiian favorites. Poke bowls, Chicken Adobo, Sisig, and Afritada, a traditional Filipino stew, are all fan favorites for good reason. The pork belly Sisig is served with a poached egg and purple sweet potato. Chef Brian Madayag named Barkada for his approach to food and people — Barkada is Filipino slang for a group of friends — “a good kind of gang.” The Tom Douglas restaurant empire chef opened his own place in Edmonds to enjoy the gathering of friends over his native dishes.
622 5th Ave S., Edmonds | 425-670-2222 www.barkadaedmonds.com
When Budapest Bistro first opened, hungry ex-pats of the Eastern Bloc were treated to the best of rib-sticking comfort food once again. A rare treat as there are extraordinarily few opportunities for Hungarian-German food on the West Coast. The menu changes daily in Elizabeth Muszka’s small, strip-mall operation because everything is made in-house, including the spaetzle, beef goulash, and, in the fall, smoked sausage. What’s on the menu today? The ever-popular beef stroganoff? Chicken paprikash? Wiener schnitzel? Top it off with an imported beer and a side of German potato salad and finish with a Hungarian or German dessert.
12926 Mukilteo Speedway, Lynnwood | 425-513-9846
BANTABA AFRICAN RESTAURANT
The customers arrive in throngs, a long and steady line of West African transplants, eager to experience the flavors of home. Benechin, fragrant jasmine rice cooked in marinated tomato broth, is served with fish or meat. Afra grilled lamb and chicken are popular, along with the Yassa Chicken in a tangy, mustardy base. Customers vouch for the joint’s authenticity. Order to go, because the staff is too busy pumping out food to wait tables. Dr. Yvette Efevbera, whose family hails from Nigeria, says “this tastes like nostalgia… the food is legit!” The Seattleite opines that Bantaba provides “one of the more diverse eating experiences” in the region.
19417 36th Ave W., Lynnwood | 425-678-0202 Grubhub
The hole-in-the-wall location next to a laundromat is proof positive a book can’t be judged by its cover. Those who know the cooking of Rigoberto Bastida and his wife, Deisy Ramos, think of TACO-BOOK as their destination restaurant. Everett’s homeport sailors who are accustomed to the real- deal Mexican food in San Diego arrive fresh off the ship for Bastida’s dishes with tongue and tripe, marinated beef, pork and chicken. “Taste like heaven on a tortilla.” “Delicious and authentic.” “Brings me fond memories.” Reviews for the from-scratch fare, including Barbacoa tacos with consommé, Torta Cubanos, Sopa and Menudo, spare no praise.
1130 Broadway C, Everett | 425-258-2762
TOUBA FRENCH BAKERY
Papa Seck’s warm greeting echoes out the kitchen and past the three pastry cases. “Hallo! Welcome!” His year-old French Bakery is the dream child from his days in Touba, Senegal. Seck is crafting baguettes along side Pain au Lait. Lemon meringue tarts, and Canéles de Bourdeaux. The dark little towers contain a slightly sweet, custardy filling surrounded by crispy, caramelized sugar. “When they don’t know what it is,” Seck says in his thick Senegalese accent, “and then they taste it and they want a dozen!” If not a dozen of those, then one of everything, please. His raspberry croissant is a work of art. “I make a very good brioche!” Seck exclaims. Indeed, he does.
11114 Evergreen Way, Suite C, Everett | 425-374-2498 toubabakery.com
CHINA CITY RESTAURANT
A more cultivated cocktail lounge atmosphere and familiar Westernized dishes are at China City. But in a kitchen where every single member of the cooking staff, save one, is a direct immigrant from China, and curated Chinese art and sculptures greet you, what’s cooking is worth experiencing. Jack Ng and family first opened two restaurants on Whidbey Island before his sister, Fong Ng brought the operation to Mill Creek. The older set of island customers remembered the Egg Foo Yung of the nation’s early Chinese immigrants and created a new demand for the traditional dish with a long and debated history. You’ll find a spectacular version of this fluffy fried omelette in China City’s Mill Creek location. More to come: Ng will soon open Fisherman Jack’s at the Port of Everett waterfront, the latest family venture to feature regional seafood dishes from China in dim sum and noodles.
15402 Main St., #101, Mill Creek | 425-337-3600 chinacityrestaurant.com