Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Diaz Café


Our family had a good time this summer traipsing through Southeast Alaska. In Ketchikan, we lunched at the Diaz Café situated a short walk from the heavily touristed area where the cruise ships dock. Despite its proximity to these modern-day leviathans, the modest restaurant evoked a bygone era. Its laminated 8½- x 14-inch menu offered typical American fare on one side and on the other, an eclectic mixture of Asian cuisines that included chop suey, chow mein, and egg foo yong. Seeing this triumvirate of old-fashioned Chinese-American dishes, I asked our server when the menu was last updated. When she told us that nothing had changed since the late 1940s, I knew we had struck culinary gold.

It was not a new discovery in that Ketchikan is a well-marked destination. Nestled in a ten-block-wide strip of land at the base of an island, the rainy town of 13,000 may receive almost as many visitors on a busy summer day. Still, the restaurant is mostly patronized by local residents. And unlike many of the small shops in town, the Diaz Café is not quietly owned by one of the cruise ship companies. Its long-time proprietor is Clara Diaz, daughter-in-law of the original owners who opened a restaurant in Juneau in the 1930s, before relocating to Ketchikan where their café became an integral part of the local Filipino community. (The “Alaskeros,” as they called themselves, came to work in Ketchikan’s booming fish canneries in the 1920s, when US laws began to restrict the number of Chinese and Japanese immigrants.)
Clara Diaz, 2015

Given the background, we decided to go for some of the classic Filipino specialties like chicken adobo. Considered a national dish in the Philippines, it is typically prepared by marinating chicken pieces in soy sauce, white vinegar, crushed garlic cloves, black pepper, and bay leaves for about three hours, before simmering in a covered pot for an hour. 

Although we were tempted to also try the chop suey, we couldnt resist the pancit bihon (spelled “bijon” on the above menu.)1 This Chinese-Filipino noodle dish comprises rice vermicelli simply seasoned with citrus and fish sauce. We ordered ours with shrimp. Interestingly, the early history of chop suey and pancit bihon is similar in that overseas Chinese restaurateurs introduced these dishes in countries that adopted them as part of their national cuisine. While the popularity of chop suey has declined precipitously in recent decades, pancit bihon remains a mainstay in the Philippines, and is now gaining a following in the United States where it is considered an authentic regional dish. 

1. The term “pancit,” meaning “convenient food,” is derived from Hokkien, a dialect that originated in the province of Fujian on the southeast coast of China. Pancit is now used as a catch-all word for many types of Filipino noodles, with pancit bihon being the most common rice noodle dish.


Paul Freedman said...

Looks like a wonderful vacation!

Unknown said...

Great Information and I love your knowledge of Menus! It sounds like a great trip!
I 'm one of your biggest fans!!
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