FOOD: ‘The best turkey we’ve ever had’: A loyal following in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District
Grace Madigan on her favorite 2021 story: I haven’t been here that long, but I had such a fun time reporting this story. I remember reading a New York Times article that featured Kau Kau’s tradition, and I knew I wanted to know more. I was super happy to be able to talk with both the folks behind the tradition and the people it means so much to.
About 40 years ago, a customer approached the owners of Kau Kau BBQ Restaurant, in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, and asked them to roast a Thanksgiving turkey. The customer requested a soy sauce preparation.
They’ve changed the recipe since then. That initial customer request was not quite the hit they thought it would be. For decades now, they’ve used a proprietary spice mix, and year after year, people have clamored to get on the list for a turkey.
“It’s been going on for about a decade with my family,” said return customer Will Roberts. “I put my name in early and got turkey No. 1 on his board behind the counter, and ever since then, we’ve been turkey No. 1. And it’s a Thanksgiving tradition where we all go into town and pick it up. It’s the best turkey we’ve ever had.”
They also make the turkeys at the new year, and two other customers have fought for the No. 1 position on January 1 for about 20 years.
The restaurant was started by Wai Eng in the 1970s and is now owned by his daughter, Lynn Eng-Chang, and her husband, Richard Chang.
“It’s really cool to see people through the years,” said Lynn Eng-Chang. “They’ve watched me grow up, they watched me start dating him, get married, pregnant, having kids. It’s been really neat.”
A decades-old tradition in the restaurant industry always raises the same question: How long will it continue? Richard Chang says they’re not retiring yet and have a few more years before any decisions are made.
For now, they plan to keep making the turkeys and, eventually, find someone to make sure the tradition continues.