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‘A Taste of Home’ tells the story of history, food in Seattle’s Chinatown

Tai Tung's owner, Harry Chan, with Combination No 1, which has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1935. (Photo courtesy of 'A Taste of Home')
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Harry Chan prepares egg foo young at his family’s Seattle International District restaurant, Tai Tung, the oldest remaining Chinese restaurant in Seattle.

“The restaurant’s open since 1935,” Harry says. “That start with my grandfather and with a group of friends.”

This year was Tai Tung’s 80th birthday.

“We have a few customers, they over 100 years old. We have some customers they are actually five generations coming. All the time I hear from them, to talk about, ‘Oh, when I was little [I came here]. My grandfather take me.”

Tai Tung’s legacy is featured in a brand new documentary called “A Taste of Home.”

“So, ‘A Taste of Home,’ really we wanted to cover five of the oldest Chinese food establishments here in Chinatown, the ID,” says “A Taste of Home” co-director Siang Hui Tay. “Through food, talk about the immigrant history, talk about the food heritage, talk about the culture of the first immigrants who came. Why was the food cooked this way? Why was it prepared this way? And who were the first people who actually ate the food.”

Tay, along with co-director and host Val Tan, felt the history of Seattle’s Chinatown needed to be told.

“We were television producers and directors back at home in Singapore. Five years ago we embarked on a round the world journey to make documentaries, asking people one question: what is your dream? Our journey brought us to Seattle. Turns out that our question here is, ‘What is your taste of home?'”

When you walk into Tai Tung, the right side of the room is dedicated to a long counter with swiveling stools. This was built for the single men who came to Seattle from the Philippines, or China, without their families, to work in the canneries or on the railroads. They could sit at the counter, chat with the server, and eat.

“They would live around the corner in the Bush Hotel and they would come here in the mornings,” says Val. “They’d have a cup of coffee and an almond cookie and they would wait for transport. The transport would come and take them off to work. Then, in the evening time, they would come back here and that’s when they would have their dinner combinations plates; one, two, three.”

The same three combination plates served in 1935 are still served today at Tai Tung. The only thing that’s changed is the price.

“Number one we have soup of the day, then we have pork chow mein, sweet and sour sparerib, pork egg foo young and plain rice,” says Harry, reading off a menu from the 60’s.

“A Taste of Home” also features Fortuna Cafe.

“They’re one of the only two restaurants still making the Chinese glutinous rice dumplings used for the Dragon Boat Festival,” says Val. “This is a lost craft. Ask any millennial generation or even one generation up. Many of them no longer make these dumplings at home. It used to be the grandmothers would make it next to the daughter-in-laws, next to the grandchildren. You form an assembly line. It’s so labor intensive that nobody wants to do it anymore. If you don’t document it, it’s going to be lost.”

“A Taste of Home” debuts this weekend at Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum.

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