Traditional Guamanian food, such as Chamorro red rice, offers new flavors to the diverse Seattle food scene. [Image: Wikimedia Commons / Janine from South Korea, United States, CC BY 2.0]

Increase of Pacific Island Cuisine Contributes to Culinary Diversity of Seattle Area

The Pacific Asia

Ever since the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle has been known as a food destination for those hoping to sample a variety of cuisine. Among its diverse culinary offerings are dishes from the Pacific Islands. Recently, three new taco trucks opened in the Seattle area, introducing flavors of Pacific Island cuisine in a creative fusion by blending the style of tacos with tastes from the islands of Guam, Samoa, and Fiji. A new restaurant, Remedium, opened at the end of 2020 and brings together cuisines from various Asia-Pacific locales such as the Hawaiian Islands, Philippines, Guam, and the coast of Vietnam. Highlighting the growing influence of cuisine from these regions, the owner noted that they “like to say we bring Pacific Island flavors to the Pacific Northwest.”

Pacific Islanders have a long history in the Seattle-Tacoma region. The first native Hawaiians came by boat to Puget Sound with Captain Vancouver in 1792. The first wave of Samoans arrived in Seattle at the end of World War II with the decommissioning of the US military base in the Samoan capital of Pago Pago. In the 1960s, the area also saw an increase of Southeast and South Asian immigrants—such as Koreans, Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotians.

Within the past decade, the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island (NHPI) population has continued to increase in the Seattle area. Since 2010, the total NHPI population has increased by 33.3%.

Increase in NHPI Populations in Seattle, 2010 - 2019

[schema_chart chart="horizontal-bar-chart" height="300" data="201" series="Percent Increase" axis="Population"]

Source: US Census Bureau, ACS 5-year estimates, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander alone or in any combination, Seattle Urban area

While the total number of Native Hawaiian’s has gone down (43% in 10 years), there has been a significant increase in the Samoan and Guamanian/Chamorro population, with 18.9% and 45.7% increases respectively. Outside of Native Hawaiians, these two groups represent the largest number of NHPI people in Seattle. As of 2019, the total NHPI population in Seattle was 61,365 people.

Total NHPI Populations in Seattle, 2010 - 2019

[schema_chart chart="line-chart" height="400" data="200" series="Native Hawaiian,Samoan,Tongan,Other Polynesian,Guamanian/ Chamorro,Marshallese,Other Micronesian,Fijian,Other Melanesian,Other Pacific Islander- Not Specified" axis="Year"]

Source: US Census Bureau, ACS 5-year estimates, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander alone or in any combination, Seattle Urban area

These populations have had an important impact on the cultural diversity of the area. According to a local non-profit, Visit Seattle, “Pacific Islanders and Filipinos helped create a complex multi-ethnic urban neighborhood now known as the International District . . . and a fusion of Pacific Rim cultures gives our region a unique flavor and aesthetic.”

Moreover, the visibility of the NHPI population continues to grow. In January of last year, Hawaiian native Sam Choy opened up his fifth brick and mortar store, “Poke to the Max,” in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which serves up native Hawaiian fare. His business originally started out as a food truck in the area. Choy is part of a local restaurant group, Heigh Connects Food Group, whose members have a majority Southeast Asian and Pacific Island heritage. They were able to serve up Pacific Island and Asian cuisine in their community during the pandemic with a series of pop-up restaurants using food trucks. The owner, Heigh, says, "We understand this is a difficult time for many, we are hopeful we can bring a smile or two to the people in our community."