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FOOD: ‘The best turkey we’ve ever had’: A loyal following in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District

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kau kau bbq 1
Grace Madigan
/
KNKX
Richard Chang, at right, hands over one of Kau Kau’s roasted turkeys to customer Vincent Langsy, who is sharing the tradition with his partner's family this year.

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.

kau kau 2
Grace Madigan
Some of Kau Kau BBQ Restaurant's food hangs in the window at the restaurant in Seattle's Chinatown-International District. This time of year, the restaurant also makes turkeys for Thanksgiving, with a wildly popular following.

“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.

Ed Ronco came to KNKX in October 2013 as producer and reporter for KNKX’s Morning Edition. Ed started in public radio in 2009 at KCAW in Sitka, Alaska, where he covered everything from city government, to education, crime, science, the arts and more. Prior to public radio, Ed worked in newspapers, including four years at the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, where he covered business, then politics and government.
Posey produces, reports, and edits stories for Sound Effect. Before joining the Sound Effect team, Posey worked as a producer at KUOW and WNYC. She has also worked for The Moth and StoryCorps. She holds a certificate in documentary audio production from Duke's Center for Documentary Studies and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She lives in Seattle with her wife, her daughter, and a fluffy dog.