in seattle, a battle begins


There’s a regular list of must-dos whenever we hit Seattle (that doesn’t always involve visiting Matsutake Joe.)  We visit our relatives.  We catch up with old friends.  We enjoy the weather, if it cooperates (a balmy Seattle summer day rivals no other, but they’re few and far between.)

Naturally, I also have mandatory food stops.  In almost every visit to Seattle over the years, I like to have a sandwich at the family deli, Bakeman’s.  My family’s tried-and-true turkey sandwich hasn’t changed in over 30 years, and it’s wickedly good.  The turkey is roasted in-house, the bread is freshly baked, and the apple pie is flaky, with just the right amount of cinnamon.  Then there’s the requisite stocking up on Beecher’s cheese, a healthy of portion of which has to be eaten standing straight up in my aunt’s kitchen.  If we have time, I like to load up on Salumi cured meats, but if there’s not, then I’ll take some thin sliced Salumi pepperoni on a tasty slice of Pagliacci pizza.  I’ve also love Fran’s gray salt caramels, pictured above, and it’s fun that I share that in common with President Obama.  The combination of salt, bittersweet chocolate, and smooth caramel really make these confections worth every bite.

6a011570d70884970b0133f15b4fdd970b-600wiAbove: a photo of the basement entrance to my family’s deli; in all my years there, I’ve never snapped a photo, and so I snagged this image from here

On our two-day stay in Seattle last week, we managed to hit up most, but not all, of these food stops, but the highlight of our short stay was the beginning of a carefully-orchestrated, bi-coastal cookoff between my Aunt Jenny and my dad.  The hubby ignited the flame of culinary trash-talking between Aunt Jenny and my dad a few weeks ago.  Both my aunt and my dad claim to make the best kao fu (a Taiwanese/Shanghainese cold dish made of seitan, soybeans, and black fungus), and the hubby dared them each to prove it.  This dare really only benefits the hubby, who fell improbably in love with kao fu during our visit to Taipei back in April.  I’ve eaten kao fu my whole life but never introduced the hubby to it until we happened upon it in Taipei.  Honestly — and I really never do this to him — I unfairly wrote the hubby off as “too white” to appreciate kao fu, and kao fu itself as “too Chinese” to be appreciated by anyone who didn’t grow up eating the stuff.  Apparently, I gave both parties short shrift, and lately the hubby has been eagerly chowing down on kao fu whenever it’s placed in front of him.

When we arrived at Aunt Jenny’s house, like a warrior suited in armor, she greeted us holding a huge pot of freshly-made kao fu.  She’d been so excited to prove her cooking skills that she’d gotten up at 5:00 am that morning to prepare it.  Our jet-lagged, exhausted selves immediately descended onto that brimming pot of goodness, so much so that I completely forgot to snap some photos of her masterpiece.  The advantage Aunt Jenny claimed was that she “knows a place” (of course she does; see Matsutake Joe, above) that makes fresh seitan in Seattle, which makes for a more textured dish than any version my dad supposedly can present, since he has to use frozen seitan from his Chinese grocer in Charleston, South Carolina.  She also made a sauteed nian gao, a rice cake dish with julienned pork, shitake mushrooms, and napa cabbage, something my dad also claims to have mastered.  She gave us seconds, then thirds, of each dish, sniffing that when it comes to cooking, my dad “talks a big game.”  Them’s some serious fightin’ words.

The hubby responded that he’ll be the judge, now that he’s a kao fu expert and all, after he tastes my dad’s version.  I’m really not sure how this contest is going to end, but I’m pretty sure things are going escalate quickly, with the dishes becoming more elaborate and additional ones being added, “for flair.”  When it comes to food, my family, and now, apparently, the hubby, it always happens that way.  Stay tuned.


  1. Vivian says

    A&J also serves a kao fu, and their flair includes bamboo, a couple edamame, wood ear fungus, carrots, mushrooms, and of course seitan all braised in a greasy, salty, sweet, maybe a little tangy, sauce. I TOO would like to know your family’s dueling recipes for the stuff. YUM!

  2. Maria says

    Ann, Is Bakeman’s YOUR family’s deli? Or is Bakeman’s a family deli? I’m confused and it is past my bedtime! I may be heading to Seattle in August so I”ll have to look it up. So sorry I missed you in Charleston!!! Are you back in KL yet? My CofC graduate, Hart Moede, wants to get in touch with you when you return. Best, Maria

  3. says

    I just recently discovered Fran’s on a trip back home to the States. I fell in love with those salted caramels. In fact, I bought some grey sea salt so I could try mind hand at making them here in Japan. Have you ever tried to create your own batch? Lots of recipes on the internet, but not sure which one is worthwhile.

  4. says

    Maria: yes, my uncle’s family owns Bakeman’s Deli. And yes, we’ve returned to KL — tell your CofC’er to get in touch with me!

  5. says

    Mary R: Never tried to create my own grey salt caramels, but it sounds like a worthy experiment! I’ll have to look around and try to do a future blog post about my experience (even if I fail).