My only qualification for writing a food review is that I occasionally eat. This is the first time I've attempted anything of the sort, but I did promise Jenny Tse (Downer) I'd do what I could to promote Sipping Streams Tea House far and wide. Red Room is about as far and wide from Fairbanks, Alaska as one can get..
Now they tell me that one of the primary doctrines of good journalism is unbiased objectivity. Well, we might as well toss that right out the window, right up front. Not only is Jenny Tse a good friend, but I've also invested a certain quantity of time and talent to helping put some finishing touches on her shop, building cabinets, rewiring electrical services, and such. And I'm currently making some new sandwich board signs that will grace her parking lot. They're turning out to be quite snappy looking, if I do say so myself.
But all that aside, I can honestly say that Sipping Streams is on the required list of tourist destinations for anyone venturing to Interior Alaska. Not only is Sipping Streams the most northerly official Chinese Tea House on the planet, but it has food and drink second to none.
When Jenny started Sipping Streams, she set out to provide a wide variety of exotic teas, as well as to educate people on the fine art and culture and tea. Food was, at first, a mere side product...an almond cookie here or a tea cake there to properly accommodate the appropriate tea. But it very quickly became something much more.
Now, Jenny comes by this honestly. Her father was the head chef at one of the finest and famous Chinese/Polynesian restaurants in Alaska, for many many years. Her mom had been a hard-working assistant, creating steamed buns and traditional potstickers, and anything else that was distinctively Cantonese. (There are profound differences between Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine; most Americans are relatively unacquainted with the former).
The steamed buns are to die for. There are seveal kinds; my favorites are the ones stuffed with sweet red bean paste, an ancient traditional favorite. There are also marinated pork, chicken, and vegetarian buns. The lastest addition to the Sipping Streams pastry line is the coconut bun, which can be summed up in one adjective. Wow!
About once a week I'll stop in for a big bowl of salmon Jook. Jook is a boiled rice with lots of ginger and celantro (which makes for a fine meal in itself) but usually augmented with meatballs, chicken, beef, or my favorite, Alaskan salmon.
On special occasions, Jenny will create a traditional Dim Sum dinner, by reservation only, This includes steamed pork, chicken or beef rice, rolled into a Lotus leaf (which Jenny has lovingly imported from "a top secret source in the Lower 48," since we're a bit short on native Lotus plants in Alaska).
Jenny's "tea reportoire" seems to grow by the day; it's hard to keep track of all the types. She has tea from China, Japan, India, Africa, and Yerba Mate from a few South American regions. She holds semi-regular tea tastings, and puts on tea ceremonies by request; these have proven immensely popular.
The location of Sipping Streams is ideal, as well, It's within easy walking distance of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, near the corner of University Avenue and College Road. It's about 50 paces from Gulliver's Books, going the opposite direction.
Oh, and almost forgot to mention. Sipping Streams is becoming THE hangout for young artists. On the first Friday of every month, the walls of the "tea classroom" are adorned with the art of a new local artist. One Saturday a month, there is also Open Mic Night, where musicians, poets, and writers are free to share their creations with other guests and fellow artists.
Stop by Sipping Streams next time you're in the sub-Arctic. You'll be glad you did.
Eric P. Nichols, patron
Causes Eric Nichols Supports
Free Burma Rangers, Partners Ministries (Thailand), Literacy council of Alaska, Access Alaska.