Love Letters to My City

Photographer Jordan Nicholson Celebrates Seattle's Diversity and Teriyaki

"With our tummies full of lomo saltado and boba, and our hearts full of fighting spirit... There’s nothing we can’t do."

Jordan Nicholson
Photo: Jordan Nicholson; Illustration: Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist
Jordan Nicholson is a Seattle-based photographer and illustrator. You can check out his work here and follow him on Instagram.

Dear Seattle,

I love you. You’ve always been home to me. As time goes on, I realize more and more just how special this home is. It’s kind of big. It’s kind of small. In my opinion, that’s exactly the perfect size. It can feel like a big city and yet rarely do I leave my place without bumping into someone I know. It’s this feeling of community that is everything to me. I don’t know if this is everybody’s experience. Apparently, for newcomers to the city, there is something called the “Seattle Freeze.” But as someone who was born and raised in South Seattle and continues to live here, community is all I’ve ever known. It’s what makes this place beautiful.

In my mind, South Seattle, or as we say, “Soufend” embodies a lot of what the American Dream claims to be about. It’s wildly diverse and because of that, I think it produces some really unique human beings whose identities are the amalgamation of a lot of different cultures. 
 
Personally, I’m half Black and half Chinese. For biracial folks, it can sometimes feel like there’s a pressure to “pick a side” or choose one group to identify more with. But what’s interesting to me is that growing up in Seattle, I don’t know that I ever felt like I really had to make that choice. The one thing we all had in common growing up here is that we were all different. At one point, our zip code was allegedly the most diverse zip code in all of America. 
 
So whether you were Black, White, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somalian, Ethiopean, Mexican, Filipino, everybody kind of just kicked it with everybody. And while we all brought our own unique culture to the table, we all united under this singular Soufend identity. I realize now that this particular experience might only be shared by a specific community of people within Seattle, but it’s honestly the only Seattle I really know.

The Seattle I know is a place where different communities are all living alongside each other and in that process of gettin’ by, everybody naturally ends up sharing things with everybody else. That’s music, movies, style, and of course, food! Admittedly I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest foodie in the world; I’m not someone who is constantly looking for some new place to eat. I just have a few spots scattered around the city that I go back to again and again, like one of my favorite places is San Fernando, a Peruvian chicken spot. Their Lomo Saltado is everything I love about food: tender bits of beef stir fried with onions, tomatoes, soy sauce, vinegar, and most importantly.. French fries! Legend has it that the dish was created by Chinese workers who immigrated to Peru in the 1800s. They incorporated the local ingredients into their cooking and boom: Lomo Saltado was born.

Another old favorite is Toshio’s Teriyaki. I think in other cities you can get teriyaki as a dish at certain Japanese restaurants, but in Seattle, Teriyaki is very much the main event. There’s a whole culture around it. It’s usually served over rice with a side salad, and every spot does their version a little different. Every Seattleite has their favorite place. Doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are or where your family came from. Everybody love’s teriyaki. It’s a uniquely Seattle thing.

There’s also Mi Ranchito, a new addition to my favorites list, a place that’s part Mexican mini market, but serves food on the weekends. I get the beef/asada tacos and my brother loves the pork tacos, which come with little pieces of pineapple in them. Whatever you get, just know it’s going to be knockin’.

I feel like I can’t talk about food in Seattle without at least mentioning bubble tea, or boba. Boba, much like Teriyaki, is such a unifying force within Seattle. My go to spot for the last few years has been a place called Seattle Best Tea. I love that it’s an actual tea shop. Rows and rows of various loose leaf teas are lined along the walls for you to purchase. Pre Covid, you would usually find elderly chinatown residents enjoying life in the back area, sipping on tea. I go in so often that the very friendly staff has memorized my order. On more than one occasion, I’ve ended up staying longer than I intended because I was chit chatting with the owner who is my auntie but not actually my auntie. Hang around at a spot long enough and you’re sure to see every kind of person coming in and out. If it’s good, it’s good. Everybody loves something tasty.

Seattle’s an amazing place. All this culture, all this food, all these beautiful people. I’m so grateful for my upbringing here, but I can’t help but wonder how long the city will be able to provide this diverse and wonderful experience. Truth is, things are changing. FAST. You know how it goes. Big companies move in. Prices go up. People can’t afford to live here anymore so they move out. In the past few years I was becoming a little afraid that the thing I loved most about Seattle was starting to slip away. It’s really hard when it feels like your city is losing some of the soul it once was so overflowing with. But lately, with everything happening around the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s been encouraging to see just how powerful it is when people unite their voices to demand justice and some better version of their city. So I’m hopeful.

Seattle’s a place that has become a home to so many from all around the world. Against the odds, diversity has thrived and shaped the city into something that’s just very rare and special. For so many in the community, overcoming challenges is nothing new. Be that immigrating to the US without even knowing the language, building businesses from the ground up, navigating the system with a lack of resources, and just overcoming the many hurdles that society has dished out. I’ve seen firsthand how strong all the people living here are. There is so much uncertainty in our city and in the world, but I have faith that we’re going to get through as we always have. With our tummies full of Lomo Saltado and boba, and our hearts full of fighting spirit... There’s nothing we can’t do.
 
Love,
Jordan Nicholson

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