Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Humbao Research, Seattle, WA

Avocado bubble tea from Bubbles in West Seattle, Jaci's bicep and humbao. I'm going to connect all three in this post.

We'll start with Jaci's bicep. She competed in the Danskin Triathlon on Sunday, and here are her results:

107th out of 3496 and 21 out of 481 in the 35-39 age group.

My friend is impressive, for sure. I've attended two triathlons this summer (Lake Padden, afternoon and sunny, Danskin, EARLY and WET) and at both I hoped to be inspired to participate in one some day, but that didn't happen.
I do, however, take a killer circuit training class at Anderson's, and Cris, the trainer, is as energetic as five "energetic" people combined (unless you know Jaci, then it would be more like two energetic Jaci's combined.)

Well, this morning, he asks me, "Hey, when does school start?" (because he is as nice as five nice people combined) and my tone is really edgy when I answer, "WHY does EVERYONE have to know when school starts? Why is THAT INFORMATION so important to everyone?" And poor Cris, he is just baffled at my bitchy response. So I apologize and explain that I just get really depressed when I have to say goodbye to summer.

"Clinically depressed?" he asks.

Well, not clinically. But that got me thinking about what I could do today that would ward off the dread a bit. And then I thought of my brother's comment from a few days ago when I suggested a taco truck contest.

He said: "Oh, I'm too scared to put my taco truck up against yours; I haven't eaten there for 5 years. I don't even know if it's still there. But I would drive to Seattle in a heartbeat if your adventure could include tacos and humbao..." Which can be translated into "I love you and I understand what makes you really happy."Taco trucks make me happy, and so do food missions.

So I came up with a plan to ward off depression while preparing for my brother's humbao visit: a little lunchtime humbao research before my haircut appointment (which was close to the International District). I have to admit, I have been a little stand-offish to my city since my return from New York. Like, I didn't really feel like talking to it since it didn't have a subway when I first got home, and I was like, "you're so small and not all that cosmopolitan." But I was wrong to treat my city that way, because it has been very good to me and it does the best it can being so far west and having such a small harbor (in comparison) and so I thought I would try to work on our relationship by ending the silent treatment and actually doing something active with it by conducting a little humbao research, even though I would have to drive my own car and park, and pay for parking, etc.

Here were my rules:

1. I had one hour to complete my mission, paid for at the Uwajimaya parking lot.
2. I would taste as many humbao as possible within this one hour time limit.
3. If the humbao wasn't good, I would throw it away (waste of taste and calories).

Before leaving, I googled "best humbao, Seattle" and the Honey Court Restaurant on Maynard came up...perfect place to begin. They were serving dim sum for lunch, and the humbao only came in orders of three. I thought of Elsa freezing her humbao for lunch, so I agreed and paid the $2.25. Getting humbao kind of blind is just don't know what is going to be inside the sweet, puffy dough. It could be ground pork, could be barbecued pork, or it could be a hunk of Chinese sausage and a hard-boiled egg. You just don't know. But I love the Door #1 and Door #2 kind of excitement. The Honey Court buns were sweeter than usual because of their custardy-sugary coating (they were baked, not steamed, as is the classic). The pork inside was nice and barbecue-y and it would have received an excellent rating had it not been on the "luke" side of lukewarm. Certainly not bad enough to throw away, however. Probably much better steamed at home, which I will try later.

Across the street was the Purple Dot cafe, and though they did not list humbao on their menu, when I asked, the woman removed three traditional steamed buns from her dim sum cart and charged me $2.13 for them. I could find absolutely nothing wrong with these buns. They were hot and delicious. How is this for a close-up? Across the street from that, I went to the huge China Gate restaurant and purchased three more buns, which were almost exactly the same as the Purple Dot steamed ones, and they are pictured at the top of this post. If you were to ask which ones were better, I would have to say the China Gate bao were and if you were to ask me why, I would just say "I don't know why."

A few places after that were so crowded that I couldn't even get in the door to ask about humbao- like Shanghai Garden and Imperial Palace. Some places didn't have humbao, like J & L Cafe. The woman at the counter there pointed at her wrapped banana leaves tied with string and said these were the equivalent, but with sticky rice. I've had them before, and thought I should try them for my brother since they are an "equivalent" to his favorite.

"Peanut and pork, or mung bean and pork?" the woman asks me. I choose the peanut and pork, and a man sitting at a table near the counter can't help but interject why he likes the mung bean and pork ones better.

"OK, the mung bean and pork one, then," I say to the woman.

The man rolls his eyes a bit and says, "Oh, you've got to try both of them. They are only $2 a piece!" Like, you aren't buying two cars, lady! Obviously he didn't know that I had six leftover bao in my bag at that moment and was planning to buy more, but I gave into his bullying because it was food bullying and that kind of bullying I can respect. Here is a picture of one of them, tied up so neatly.

But by that time, I only had twenty minutes left on the clock, so I decided to wait to open the sticky rice surprise since it was cold, anyway, and I had to run to Uwajimaya to buy $7.50 worth of stuff to get my "free" hour of parking. I bought some origami paper and made my way to the food court, where I purchased my last humbao, from Yummy House Bakery. It was bigger and much more expensive, at $1.25, but it was nice and the pork was shredded and there was lots of it. This one was also baked.

When I got to my car, I unwrapped the banana leaves and took a big bite of the sticky rice, which was a mistake. I don't recommend biting anywhere near the leaf, because it doesn't smell very good. I decided to save it and heat it up later (which I did and it was excellent).

While getting my hair cut, I reflected on my humbao mission. Here I had taken an hour to reconnect with my city and had eaten so many good humbao, but I had to admit that I still had the memory of that humbao spot on Mott street in New York (the one where I took that rushed blurry picture because I was so hungry). I can't explain why, but it was much better.

I knew what I had to do. I knew a place in Seattle that did something better than New York, for sure...Bubbles in West Seattle makes the best avocado bubble tea. In New York they just didn't get it quite right...maybe not cold enough, maybe too much sugar...I just couldn't get it perfect (and don't try it on Queen Anne, either....ewwww it was bad and ruined my perfect record of recommendations to Dennis). So that's how it all connects, see? And that is the end of my story. Thank God Cris asked me the dreaded question this morning, and that I have tools to work through my depression, and that he works us out hard enough that I can go on these kinds of missions without doing too much damage.

And I am back with Seattle.

Oh, here is the sticky rice package when I got it home and away from the smelly leaf and heated it up: I loved it.

Brian, when are you coming down?


Anonymous said...

Hey Karyn, I'm commenting before you!!

The humbao makes me hungry.

The Norris Clan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Norris Clan said...

Ohhhhh..... Angie - game on!

Ok. I must admit... I have NEVER had a humbao, even though it is my mom's favorite treat. They just never seemed that appealing, but then neither did beets. Maybe my mom IS as smart as she looks. Marjie, I loved going on your mission via blog. I had a mission on my own today in Bham, and was reminded how much I love MY little city. So, thank you. It must be in the air. I am SO glad you have reconciled. Seattle is happy too.

The Norris Clan said...

that was my deleted comment, btw. I screwed up...

Marjie said...

Angie, I can bring you lots of leftover humbao on our camping trip.

Karyn, you really don't sleep! I woke up to fifty comments from you...good to have you back, the blog needs you. I want to hear about Chicago myself, but please tell the blog about your B'ham mission - it's on topic. (And did you have the no-guilt chicken salad at Chili's, or the deep fried whatever?)

Brian Bowker said...

MARJIE! This is the best blog post EVER! Because it's for ME! Hooray for me!

I am floored that you could go to 6 or 7 places that make hunbao (or equiv) in under an hour. I think part of me always knew this was the case in the International district, but I just didn't want to admit it to myself.

I am on my way down right now (in my heart!).

Karyn - Try the humbao. Be brave. (But not in B-ham; I have not found good humbao up here. Yet.)

Oh, and Marjie - Don't forget that I will be on that camping trip also. I will pay a handsome ransom for scraps from your humboa adventure!

Dennis said...

I can totally relate to this post. Partly because of my deep love for humboa, cultivated in Chicago, where a guy could get some really awesome ones on the north side in the mid-80s. But mostly because I too have turned my back on Seattle and gone through an awkward re-acquainting process. When I returned from LA, you'll recall I needed to ceremoniously perform every one of my old usual routines, and visit all of my old usual haunts, in order to feel at home again.

Although I appreciate the difficulty of re-acquainting, there are stark differences in our experiences. In your case, you seem to have suddenly realized that Seattle might not be worthy of your love, and as a result you were having trouble looking it in the eye. In my case, I was ashamed that Seattle knew I had consorted with SoCal, and I just needed something to wash off the Orange County stank.

I see that your brother thinks this post is all about him, but judging from the largest and top-most photo, I think we both know it's really all about ME, and how much you value my opinion of you. Consider the bubble tea fiasco forgotten, now that you've told me where to get grade-A humbao.

Marjie said...

OMG Dennis, it's you! Maybe you aren't aware of this, but you have an entire Salem Graveyard post dedicated to you, so I think my brother gets this one. Sorry. And I am glad that you used the word "stank" instead of "stink" because my mom does NOT tolerate that word at all!

You and my brother both spelled it "humboa." Is there something I don't know?

The Norris Clan said...

Well... my mission was not as exciting as yours, but never the less it was a mission. I wanted to re-explore downtown Bham. They have been trying hard the last few years to beautify it and make it more appealing. I decided to zigzag through the streets to find the most interesting shops, food, etc. First, I had the BEST americano ever (that says a lot since I worked in the coffee bus for a while) at Avellino on Railroad. Plus the guys working there was playing the Days of the New CD, which is one of the greatest and least known bands. Next was my fav little Irish pub, Uisce's. We definitely need to have a pint there when you are up. The best part, though, of the day, and winner of the most interesting was a shop called The Stuff Bot, or something like that. They had a shirt that was priceless, and very apropos for Bellingham - it simply said: I Hate Local Bands. Hilarious. Rick wants it now. Oh, btw, they are in LA as we type, read, etc. Monday is the big day!

I will post on Chicago in the next day or so... SO much fun and good food!

jp 吉平 said...

I'm giving you an assignment:
Jade Garden
New Kowloon
MeeSum Pastry
Tony's Bakery
Uwajimaya Food Court (mauna pua)

Since I'm Filipino American, I gravitate more toward the Vietnamese or Hawaiian styles. I'm surprised you like China Gate, which is on my do-not-enter list, as are Shanghai Garden and Sea Garden. Purple Dot is on my sister's do-not-enter list.

Also, I really think baked humbao and steamed humbao are apples and oranges.

When you go on your next taco truck assignment, please go to the bus on Rainier by my house and order a mulita de adobada.

Finally, tell me when you go on a steamed dumpling assignment to Fuman Dumpling House, because I really dig those.

Brian Bowker said...

Marjie - What you don't know is that Dennis and I would rather eat humbao than spell it.

Karyn - The store is called Merchbot and I wandered into it the other day too! Cool shop!

Marjie said...

Hey JP! Welcome back from China...maybe NOW you can find some people to speak Mandarin with you!

Thanks for the assignments. I will accept the mission whole heartedly and take my brother...I really didn't know anything about humbao in Seattle, so I am thankful to hear it from someone who does know. And the taco truck in your hood - I am there! This weekend!

kumma said...

Smarj... I am sad and ashamed to admit that I had forgotten anyone could even HAVE an adventure in Seattle! I thought true adventures were reserved for faraway destinations, or at least road trips to Canada in a S.W.A.T. van. Thank you for rejuvanating my love for my hometown (well, not my "hometown," but my "homecity," of which my hometown is a big-haired suburb). I have to also admit that, like Dennis, I have to wash the SoCal out from under my fingernails and dig back into Seattle, though I've been back now for seven years... Thank you, once again, for opening my eyes back up to LIFE!!

jp 吉平 said...


Ah, the wonders of the taco bus! I introduced Ann Marie to the wonders of the mulita.

She started going on a mulita mission of her own, discovering that some taco trucks have a slice of avocado in their mulitas... and some places do not! Definitely go for the avocado