It began with a longing for home.
After traveling around for five years, Singapore-born-and-raised friends Siang Hui Tay, who goes by Tay, and Xin Hui Tan, who goes by Val, came to Seattle as new immigrants.
“We were homesick and we wanted to find something that tasted like home,” Val said. They visited Seattle’s International District in hopes of finding foods that they grew up with.
But after ordering a traditional dish at one restaurant, they were disappointed. It was prepared much differently than they remembered from home. As they began talking with the restaurant manager, they learned that the dish has been on the menu for many years, which sparked a discussion about the differences in the food and how some of the dishes originally brought from immigrants eventually began to cater to the American taste pallet.
“We realized what is the true definition of a taste of home,” Tay said. “It is very, very different for everybody. A taste of home can be a dish, a feeling, a smell, and it just brings us back to what we are used to. It can be something related to your grandma’s cooking or your mom’s cooking.”
This sparked the idea to further explore what “a taste of home” means through the filming of a documentary. The film, fittingly titled, A Taste of Home, highlights five different food establishments in Seattle’s International District. The documentary is sponsored by community partners 4Culture, Department of Neighborhoods (Neighborhood Matching Funds), and SCIDpda.
“It’s about understanding the different food heritages of different cultures,” Tay said. “We went on a mission to document [the restaurants] before they all disappeared. … We kind of expect them to be there everyday and you don’t expect them to disappear but one day Mon Hei, that got burned down, they just disappeared.”
Though Tay and Val are not from Seattle, they believe that gives them a fresh perspective. They filmed the documentary over a period of a year, while getting to know the owners and their stories before ever bringing a camera inside.
“They let us into their—we call it their ‘sacred kitchens’—because there’s this mentality that it’s nearly impossible to enter the kitchen of Chinese restaurants because they have recipes to keep to themselves,” Val said. “They let us into their world and they made us feel like we’re one of them, part of the community.”
While the documentary focuses on one location, Tay and Val believe this topic is applicable to anyone, anywhere.
“This country was founded by immigrants,” Val said. “We have a saying that you lose the language, you lose the festivals, but you always, always lose the food last. You assimilate in a lot of ways but food is something you try to hold onto for as long as possible.”
Food and the experience of it is largely an equalizing factor, Tay and Val explained. It’s unifying. And it’s something that many can relate to.
The premiere showing of “A Taste of Home” happens on June 27 at the Wing Luke Museum. According to Tay and Val, it will be a film screening unlike any other. There has been a high response rate, and the premiere can only seat part of the interested numbers because it will be an interactive experience. The premiere will include foods featured in the documentary, facilitate engagement from different generations, and provide tools for audiences to continue this conversation of what a taste of home means.
“My taste of home is remembering the times when my family sat down at the table for dinner, Tay said. “The shared moments where we sat down and eat.”
For Val, her idea of a taste of home has shifted throughout the filmmaking process after talking to so many people about what their taste of home is.
“You know how the saying goes, ‘home is where the heart is’? You make your own home,” Val said. “More and more I feel a taste of home remembering those who came before you, those who built what exists today so you can go ahead and build what you want to see tomorrow.”
But this is a continuous conversation, that even sparked new ideas for Tay after listening to Val’s new take on the topic.
Anyone can join the conversation and see what others are saying too by snapping a photo on Instagram of a dish or anything that represents the meaning of ‘a taste of home’ and hashtagging #ATOH.
‘A Taste of Home’ will premiere at the Wing Luke Museum on Saturday, June 27 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information and to get on the wait list, go to www.atasteofhome.us