Seattle’s location on the Pacific Rim and its historical Asian immigrant communities have deeply influenced its food scene - and it can be more than a little odd, writes Ivy Carruth
Seattle, an emerald jewel in America’s Pacific Northwest, is not only renowned for its lush evergreen landscapes and influential tech scene but also boasts some intriguing aspects related to its vibrant food culture. Surrounded by forests and the sea, foraging is more than a pastime in Seattle—it’s a facet of the culinary scene. Local chefs harness the area’s natural bounty, sourcing ingredients like wild mushrooms, berries, and sea greens to create dishes that truly reflect the local terroir.
The city is renowned for its diverse array of authentic Asian eateries, including Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino cuisines, often merged with Northwest ingredients and flavours to create unique fusion dishes that aren’t found anywhere else.
Seattle’s relationship with food is deep-rooted in its maritime history, as well as the cultural melting pot that is urban America. One such delight — though understandably startling to some when they see it, is the geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”). This large clam, native to the west coast of North America, is notorious for its peculiar phallic shape and substantial siphon that can stretch to impressive lengths.
While New Zealand has its own array of seafood, nothing quite matches the texture and taste (not to mention the look) of fresh, slightly sweet geoduck sashimi or the satisfying crunch of geoduck pan-fried to golden perfection, commonly enjoyed in Seattle’s local seafood restaurants and Asian eateries.
Diving deeper into seafood (see what I did there?), we find a dish that takes a beloved favourite and gives it a Seattle twist: Alaskan halibut tacos. Though fish tacos are well known to food enthusiasts, Seattle’s proximity to Alaskan waters grants access to some of the freshest halibut you’ll ever taste.
Imagine coarse corn tortillas enveloping snow-white chunks of tender, cold water halibut, complemented by a tangy slaw, bursts of coriander and a creamy, not-too-spicy sauce. It’s a taste-tastic melding of texture and flavour — a far cry from the classic snapper or hoki tacos back home. And if they happen to have halibut cheeks on the menu? Order them immediately.
Not all of Seattle’s culinary quirks lean towards the refined, though. Enter the Spam slider, testament to Seattle’s welcoming embrace of all things Americana, with an added touch of Pacific influence. These tiny burgers take canned Spam, a pork product often relegated to emergency rations in Kiwi pantries, and elevate it into a succulent, sought-after delicacy.
The Spam is sliced, seared to caramelised perfection, and nestled between fat pillowy buns with the grill marks visible. It’s comfort food, redefined and embraced by Seattleites and adventurous tourists alike. Spam is also very popular in Japanese restaurants here in the form of sushi, wrapped in a blanket of seaweed atop sticky rice.
In the realm of the peculiar yet irresistible, you’d be remiss not to scoff the official Seattle hotdog; locals swear by it, particularly after a boozy night out. At hotdog stands and food trucks dotted around the city, particularly near nightlife districts, you’ll find this not-so-ordinary snack that comes with a generous “schmear” of … cream cheese. The sausage, piled high with grilled onion and customary condiments, coupled with the rich cream cheese, is the treat you never knew you needed until now. It’s the kind of bizarre you won’t understand until you take that first bite.
Speaking of unusual, “fries with eyes” might sound like a Halloween special, but they’re a year-round snack in seafood-loving Seattle. These aren’t your standard fries; they’re fried smelt, small fish, served whole. While Kiwis enjoy whitebait fritters, these are a bit larger, barely battered and deep-fried. They’re served with a mayonnaise-y tartare sauce and a simple squeeze of lemon, making for a snack that’s as addictive as it is crunchy. Their tiny, crisp bones add a surprising texture uncommon in more traditional seafood dishes, and honestly, they’re just fun to eat.
Lastly, for those with an adventurous palate, Seattle offers fried fish bones. Initially a way to minimise waste in Japanese cuisine, this dish has found its way into the heart of Seattle’s foodie culture. These aren’t just any fish bones, though; they’re usually from salmon, a regional staple. The bones are cleaned and fried until crispy, resulting in a snack that’s rich in calcium and surprisingly tasty. Hot tip: They taste like bacon! Buttery brown and so very moreish, this is sustainable eating at its finest.
Seattle’s culinary scene delivers the traditional expected fare but also the innovative and the daring. It challenges the palate and promises unexpected concoctions if you’re willing to try something new. For Kiwis looking for a unique gastronomic adventure, the Emerald City delivers. Wander those art-filled streets of Seattle, and remember, adventure might just be a bite away.
For more things to do in Seattle, see visitseattle.org