by Staff Writer
A breakfast of fit fit from Ethiopia, a lunch of Nem Cuon from Vietnam, topped of with an evening dinner of scrumptious carnitas from Mexico leaving your belly on the brink of bursting. Normally such a reality would require either a king’s ransom worth of frequent flyer miles or a vomit inducing fortune which allowed such cavalier continent hopping. Fortunately South End residents haven’t found it necessary to step foot outside of their domain over the past week in order to be treated to a global buffet as Plate of Nations kicked off last week.
The brainchild of local independently-owned ethnic restaurant owners and Martin Luther King Business Association, Plate of Nations food festival, now in its 5th year, features twelve local ethnically diverse restaurants along Martin Luther King Jr. Street – stretching from the Othello Neighborhood into Mount Baker. Local restaurants including Thai Savon, Bananas Grill and Huarachitos which offer special plates for two or more to share, set at $15 and $25 will introduce both locals and visitors to South Seattle borders to ethnically rich food which matches the diversity of its residents.
“Let’s face it, more often than not people around here are a little hesitant to sample a restaurant even if it’s just around the corner from them because they feel like an outsider… and that the place really isn’t geared towards them. Plate of Nations really takes a lot of that fear away,” said Damian Lix, an organizer for the event.
“I hate to say it, but several people from the area have admitted to me that they feel more comfortable stepping into a restaurant that is culturally distinct when they see someone who looks like they do,” adds Lix, who lives in Rainier Beach. Once they’ve stepped in residents often find themselves stepping out pleasantly surprised at a newly discovered gem.
“I was curious about a lot of the restaurants (that are taking part) in Plate of Nations but I never really had a reason to go,” said Colleen Murphy, a Rainier View resident who recently visited Plate of Nations participant Othello Wok. “In this day and age where else can you pay twenty five bucks for something that feeds four people. I have my breakfast, lunch and dinner covered in one meal, plus its actually happening in my backyard instead of Wallingford.”
Murphy is not alone in her surprise at the South End pulling off its own food-centric showcase, as many who would usually fear to tread in the area have found themselves visitors here, attracted by the unique cuisine of Plate of Nations.
“I saw an advertisement for it on the light rail and my first thought was: For real? They’re doing something like this in the South End?” said Sonya Hubbard, a Capitol Hill resident.
She continued, “There’s rarely ever a reason to travel down here it seems. I mean you hear all about the bad stuff that goes on. I was actually shocked at the number of restaurants they had down here that weren’t a McDonalds.” A self described food addict, she intends to bring family and friends down this weekend to feast at Mexican restaurant Huarachitos.
Hubbard has joined the influx of outsiders venturing to the South End community who are gradually transforming Plate of Nations into a truly city-wide event, and providing a much needed financial boost to the local economy.
“South Seattle is an amazing place to live, work and shop and it’s about time everyone knew that. I think that the Plate of Nations helps elevate the perception of our community and highlights the unique global experience we enjoy here,” shares Sarah Valenta, who has helmed planning of the event since its inception. “The goal was to bring more business into the area, shine a light on the fantastic global cuisines found along MLK and create fun and positive buzz about our community throughout the city.”
According to Valenta, the event has grown steadily every single year, both monetarily and in terms of visitors from outside the immediate South End area. Over the span of two weeks, last year’s event brought over $20,000 into the community, not including the “butterfly effect” of food, drink and other retail item purchases at non-participating shops due to an import of people into the area as a result of Plate of Nations. In addition, speaking to the event’s growing popularity, last year’s patrons matriculated from 27 different Seattle neighborhoods, 29 different Washington cities and 5 different states.
Along with tastebud-jolting cuisine, patrons to Plate of Nations can expect a new element this year, said Valenta. “Every year we try to add something new that will make the event even more fun and add something to the restaurant owner and customer experiences. We introduced the passport two years ago (where patrons collect stamps from each restaurant and qualify to win prizes), partnered with the Rainier Valley Food Bank last year and this year we are going green,” she said. “What that means is that each participating restaurant committed to joining the Seattle Green Business Program and is making changes to reduce their environmental impact by implementing things like composting, increasing recycling, and using faucet aerators for example. They are also each offering a unique vegetarian option to their special menus.”
This is all suits residents like Murphy just fine as long as the event’s primary focus remains the food. “I really have mixed feelings about (Plate of Nations) after discovering it. I want to eat at one of the restaurants every single day, but I know I’m going to have to hit the treadmill for an entire year until the next one if I do.”
Plate of Nations continues through April 12th. For more information, go to www.plateofnations.com.