When it comes to home cooking, it’s all too easy to fall into a rut. Do you find yourself reaching for the same recipes over and over? If you’re looking to invigorate your cooking and bring new flavors into your kitchen, check out the Taste of Asia. On the first Saturday of every month, this cooking series hosted by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) offers a journey through a different Asian cuisine, bringing participants a taste of both traditional dishes and culture.

The Taste of Asia series aims to introduce attendees to culinary traditions from across Asia and the Pacific Islands. Each month a different presenter offers a live cooking demonstration, talking attendees through the intricacies of preparing traditional dishes, providing tips on where to find specialty ingredients and answering questions along the way. The event ends with a taste of the day’s dishes and a sample of the featured country’s traditional tea.

Now in its 22nd year, the Taste of Asia began shortly after APCC was founded in 1996. “We started off with the tea,” Executive Director Lua Pritchard explains. Over the years, tea presentations evolved into full-fledged cooking classes that immerse participants in a country’s food, drink and culture. The menu in 2019 will include the cuisines of India, Cambodia, Mongolia and Samoa.

Asia Pacific Cultural Center Cooking Series
Cultural Program Manager Ala Talo (second from left) poses with presenters and APCC staff at a Taste of Taiwan. Photo credit: Kaitlin Armstrong

Each year, Taste of Asia highlights 12 of the 47 cultures represented by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center. A different presenter each month means that every class in unique in its style and delivery. The menu is determined by the presenter, and according to Lua “a lot of them are homegrown recipes.”

Cultural Program Manager Ala Talo adds, “The beautiful thing about our organization is our relationship with our presenters.” Some have been with Taste of Asia through the years and return again and again, but every year new people from the community are invited to showcase their cuisine. This year’s menu is a mix of old favorites and first-time presenters.

At its heart, Taste of Asia is embedded into APCC’s mission – to promote culture and provide an educational experience. Lua explains that the classes aim to do more than send visitors home with a recipe. “We hope they take away a little bit about that country,” she says.

As Ala explains, “It’s not just the taste – it’s a whole interactive experience.” Each class is a full sensory experience – the room is adorned with artifacts from the spotlight country, and presenters will share cultural activities and traditions that extend beyond just food. The classes also help attendees get acquainted with local businesses when they can pick up the necessary ingredients to recreate dishes at home.

Taste of Asia is just one of many classes, events and community offerings the Asia Pacific Cultural Center presents throughout the year. The organization, whose mission is to “bridge communities and generations through arts, culture, education and business” is a community hub that does everything from hosting cultural festivals to working with at-risk youth and promoting civic engagement. “There’s a lot more than meets the eye,” explains Lua. But at the heart of their work, she says, “We do a lot of connecting.” In addition to the Taste of Asia series, APCC also regularly hosts vegetarian cooking classes as well as Korean and Chinese language classes.

When you arrive at Taste of Asia, the experience begins when you walk through the door as presenters often add some new décor to the lobby. A cultural activity or demonstration often accompanies the cooking class, too.

Taste of Asia Passport
Attendees are sent home with a passport containing maps, recipes and other tips to help them recreate dishes at home. Photo credit: Kaitlin Armstrong

After everyone is introduced, the cooking demonstration begins. Participants are invited to leave their seats and gather around as the presenter discusses specific cooking methods, her choice of ingredients, as well as modifications she makes to the dish. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions throughout and the ensuing discussion covers everything from choosing a wok to how to find and store dried shrimp. Many participants also exchange tips and tricks that have worked for them when creating dishes from previous classes at home.

Once the demonstration is complete, attendees sit down to taste the items from the menu. Attendees are usually sent home with materials as well, such as a booklet with the day’s recipes.

Alicia Klein has attended the Taste of Asia with her mother nearly every first Saturday since APCC moved to their South Tacoma Way location. “It’s something to look forward to,” she shares, “and it’s always a good time.” Besides the food, she says that one of the best parts of the series is watching people engage and learn. “It’s part of the reason I like to come back.”

The Taste of Asia is held the first Saturday of each month at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center’s building at 4851 South Tacoma Way. For a full list of featured this year’s featured countries or to sign up for a class, check out APCC’s website. To get the latest information on cooking classes and other upcoming cultural events, connect with them on Facebook.