Lynnwood Lifestyle: Immigrant families make impact on Lynnwood restaurant scene

Abdoulie Lowe, immigrant from The Gambia.
Abdoulie Lowe, immigrant from The Gambia.

Lynnwood has always been a welcoming home to newcomers; from the days of the Alderwood Manor Ranchettes into the 21st Century.

Over the years the area now known as Lynnwood has encouraged many into family-owned businesses.

This month Lynnwood Lifestyle profiles two families who have immigrated to the United States, and now join this community ensuring that the linage of successful Lynnwood businesses will continue.
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~ ~ ~Bantaba Card

Bantaba African Restaurant

19417 36th Ave. W.

Over the past 13 years, the City of Lynnwood has experienced a notable influx of immigrants from West Africa; most particularly from The Gambia. According to the Seattle Gambian Association, their organization alone represents 100 families, and the population of Gambian residents in the Puget Sound area numbers in the thousands.

Not surprisingly immigrants want to eat foods that remind them of their homeland – and the people from “the smiling coast of West Africa” are no exception. So when Lynnwood Gambian families want a meal that reflects the flavors of home, they look to Bantaba African Restaurant.

Lynnwood Lifestyle has made two visits to this very busy restaurant tucked into a line of businesses just east of the Lynnwood Convention Center and not far from the Lynnwood Fire Department. Just a note that it’s a good thing the restaurant is so close to the fire department because Gambian food tends to be pickled, spicy, and . . . hot!

But owner Abdoulie Lowe quiets things down with his “Super Kanja” which features okra, spinach and palm oil sauce. If you’re working toward dessert, there’s always fried plantain, which the regulars rave about. But if Bantaba is famous for anything, my guess would be it is their “Yassa Chicken,” which is slow sautéed chicken garnished with plenty of colorful red onions, peppers and mustard sauce.

Bantaba interior
Bantaba interior

Bantaba African Restaurant is not a fast food place. Meals are slow-cooked until the meat falls off the bone in savory bite size pieces – so if you’re in a wild rush for fragrant dishes of grilled fish, deep-fried caramelized seafood or the chef’s specialty of “wild rice lentil soup,” I would recommend ordering take out, followed by a fast drive back to your own dining room table.

The alternative is finding a place at one of the 10 gleaming tables, and greeting locals as they come in, plus maybe chatting with Abdoulie – if he has a moment.

Bantaba translates to “the meeting tree” – and conjures the vision of a place in Africa where villagers gather in the shade of an expansive tree to pass the time. And no doubt Bantaba has become the gathering place since its grand opening three years ago. If you’re heading there, watch for the restaurant’s grand opening sign, which is up perennially and is a great landmark.

During my second trip to Bantaba (a Sunday after the lunch rush) I had an opportunity to get to know Abdoulie, who left The Gambia in 2000 by way of Senegal, then New York, as he made his way to the home of his cousin who had settled in Lynnwood.

Asked how a person would leave his home country for America at such a young age, Abdoulie laughed at his own admission, “I was young and reckless.”

Abdoulie has since been joined in Lynnwood by one of his six siblings – a younger brother who arrived in 2003 and now works in as a corrections officer at Monroe Correctional Facility. The two young men are from an extended family of 17 children.

My Sunday afternoon visit with this engaging Lynnwood businessman came to a close as the phone rang for a countless time during my visit, “take out!” And I was on my way to share “Yassa Chicken” with my son’s family.

You can order your take out from Bantaba by calling 425-678-0202.

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Bamboo Tree CardThe Bamboo Tree

3815 196th St. S.W., Ste. 102

A young Edmonds artist living in Lynnwood, Cody French, introduced me to The Bamboo Tree. We were on a photo shoot at the Lynnwood Convention Center and he pointed out this stylish little restaurant, located in the parking lot adjoining the convention center to the west, as his favorite.

Owner Kong Tong, a South Vietnamese immigrant who commutes from South Seattle loves his Lynnwood business location. You would never know it but The Bamboo Tree is the Tong family’s first restaurant.

Inside the Bamboo Tree.
Inside the Bamboo Tree.

“It was my wife who refurbished and updated the décor of the previous restaurant when we opened The Bamboo Tree,” Tong disclosed. The restaurant seats up to 50 and is elegantly decorated with stylish bamboo shoots separating the dining areas, providing for discrete conversations and fine dining.

Tofu Vegetable Rice is a gorgeously arranged plate of grilled-to-perfection tofu, combined with carrots, snow peas, cilantro, bok choy all soaking in a generous portion of sweet soy.
Tofu Vegetable Rice is a gorgeously arranged plate of grilled-to-perfection tofu, combined with carrots, snow peas, cilantro, bok choy all soaking in a generous portion of sweet soy.

After finishing my Tofu Vegetable Rice (F11 on the menu), I had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Tong.

Kong Tong is a bashful, smiling man who fled Vietnam after Saigon fell. He made his way to the United States and took a job at Boeing Company’s Renton plant. After 15 years he decided that he was eager – if not desperate – for a change in employment. In his words, “I was very tired of working there.”

The Bamboo Tree has quite a Yelp.com following and many complimentary reviews, including this one from Yelp Reviewer Khung Roy from Everett who proclaims, “The pho dac biet is above average here with a dense, liquorous, and steaming hot broth beautifully topped with rare beef, translucent tendons, a scoop of prickly tripe, stringy white onion rings, and just the right amount of cilantro and chopped green onions dancing on the surface to make this an eye-pleasing bowl.”

If you would like to visit The Bamboo Tree’s website before your visit, you will find them here. They take phone orders at 425-996-4098.

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Lynnwood, with its welcoming, open attitude and curious residents is such a great place to show off one’s homeland fare. As time goes by, Lynnwood Lifestyle will introduce you to additional exotic restaurants opened by our immigrant community.

And if you have a favorite first-generation, family-owned restaurant that celebrates the diversity and acceptance of Lynnwood, please contact Lynnwood Lifestyle. A shout-out would be due.

— By Emily Hill

Emily ~ 2015 Bio jPeg for News (1)Emily Hill is the author of two novels and a short story collection. She also writes the “Artfully Edmonds” column for My Edmonds News. Emily is retired from a career in public information and news media relations. If you would like your event listed, or featured, in Lynnwood Lifestyle, Emily invites you to contact her at emily@lynnwoodtoday.wpengine.com.

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