This story originally aired on Janary 5, 2019.
At the corner of South King Street and Eighth Avenue South in Seattle’s International District, the inviting smell of almonds and sugar permeates the air. This is where thousands of fortune cookies are born each week. But this is also the birthplace to 17 different varieties of noodles.
The Tsue Chong noodle and fortune cookie factory has been operating in the city's International District since 1917. It was started by Gar Hip Louie. Today, Hip Louie’s great-grandson, 57-year-old Tim Louie, runs the business.
Louie recently gave Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer and food writer Nancy Leson a tour. The wide variety of noodles that Tsue Chong produces all start with four simple ingredients.
“Wheat flour, salt, water and egg,” Louie said.
When these four ingredients are first combined, they create something that Louie calls dough gravel.
“It’s very similar to something like play dough.”
Machines roll out the dough, stretch it and then cut it into the various noodles that will eventually end up on menus throughout the Northwest.
The visit to Tsue Chong was comparable to a religious pilgrimage for Leson: “I’ve lived for bowls of Asian noodles my entire life. I’d rather have any kind of Asian noodle than a loaf of bread, or a pastry, or even regular Italian pasta.”
For Spitzer, it’s the fortune cookies that draw him to this place, “That cookie smell is just driving me wild right now,” he said, mouth watering.
The cookies are baked with the fortunes inside of them. Tsue Chong has been getting its paper fortunes supplied by the same San Francisco company for the last few decades. Louie says there is nothing Chinese about fortune cookies. They are an American invention.
Louie says not all of the fortunes that get delivered from San Francisco are good.
“We use to sell (cookies) to the airlines. We got one that said ‘It is best to travel by sea,’ and if you’re on an airplane and open a cookie like that, that’s not very positive,” Louie said.
Back to the area in the factory where noodle dough was being made, Leson gently patted the rolled out dough that resembled a soft carpet with her gloved hand. While she marveled at this site, she said “It’s the difference between eating a wonderful cookie fresh out of the oven versus the next day. When you can get fresh noodle dough, that’s so exciting to me.”