Koreatown Takes Over at Chai Pani Atlanta

I use to call myself a Korean food enthusiast because I’ve probably tried ten different Korean restaurants around Atlanta. Truth be told, I’m more of a Spicy Seafood Tofu Soup enthusiast because that’s the only thing I ever order when I go to Korean restaurants. Looking back after attending Koreatown Takeover at Chai Pani, I must say I’ve failed miserably to thoroughly savor the Korean cuisine offered in Atlanta.

The event was meant to celebrate Chef Deuki Hong and writer Matt Roddard’s new Korean cookbook titled Koreatown. All attendees went home with a copy of the beautifully illustrated book with hundreds of Korean recipes. A group of chefs from Chai Pani, Heirloom Market BBQ, Gaja Korean Restaurant, Buxton Hall Barbeque (North Carolina), and chef-at-large Chris Hathcock gathered together for one night to create a five-course meal of savory and seoulful dishes inspired by recipes from Koreatown.

Thirty minutes into the event, all 140 seats at Chai Pani Decatur were filled. Each guest was equipped with a cocktail or beer to start, and an hour later, the feast began. Everyone quickly picked up their chopsticks, and for those who were chopsticks challenged, they had their forks and knives ready to go!

Rainbow Banchan (side dishes) created by all the chefs
Rainbow Banchan (side dishes) created by all the chefs

A banchan tray presented with texture and flavors ranging from soft and crunchy, to sweet and sour that accommodated all palettes. My particular favorite was the beet and lime juice pickled cauliflower (the bright pink dish in the photo) prepared by Deuki Hong, one of the authors of the book.

Los-Pyunche

Los-Pyunche Smoked galbi trip-tip, shaved onion, Korean pear, sesame leaf, uja mayo, soy wasabi dressing by Atlanta’s very own Heirloom Market Barbeque.
Los-Pyunche
Smoked galbi trip-tip, shaved onion, Korean pear, sesame leaf, uja mayo, soy wasabi dressing by Atlanta’s very own Heirloom Market Barbeque.

This dish was so delicious that it deserves a full presentation and a close up. You can savor similar tender and flavorful pieces of meat at Heirloom Market Barbeque located at 2243 Akers Mill Rd SE.

goan-chujang pork vindaloo, idli  (fermented & steamed rice&urad dal cakes) by chef Meherwan Irani & James Grogan of Chai Pani
goan-chujang pork vindaloo, idli
(fermented & steamed rice&urad dal cakes) by chef Meherwan Irani & James Grogan of Chai Pani
Smoked Beef bulgogi sausage, Carolina gold rice grits, kimchi, and radish gold rice grits, kimchi, radish by Chris Hathcock.
Smoked Beef bulgogi sausage, Carolina gold rice grits, kimchi, and radish gold rice grits, kimchi, radish by Chris Hathcock.

These two dishes took me by surprise. I didn’t expect Korean dishes to carry such drastic flavors. Chef Irani and Grogan’s dish was a blend of Korean and Indian spices while Chef Hathcock’s dish was a Korean and Southern comfort fusion. I was pleasing surprised.

Although everyone seemed generously fed with more than enough food, Chef Deuki’s last dish—the classic fried chicken — still generated a lot of excitement. And the chicken tasted as good as it looked – crispy on the outside, succulent and soft on the inside, fulfilling to the core.

 Korean fried chicken with roast garlic heads and scallion salad.

Korean fried chicken with roast garlic heads and scallion salad.

Once three dishes and several cocktails were consumed, I noticed the upbeat K-pop music playing in the background. I asked my neighbor if Korean music had been playing this entire time, and he amusedly answered that he had been too focused on the food to notice any music. I think that’s a very good indication of the food!

The dessert was my all time favorite ice-cream, Melona Melon ice-cream bar. Although all the dishes presented were made at the event and difficult to replicate, you can always purchase Melona Melon at any Korean/ Asian market near you. It’s an irresistible chunk of flavored ice to cool you down in the Hotlanta summer.

I left the event completely satiated and with a change in perception about Korean food and food in general. I’ve always been so basic (for lack of a better word) when it comes to ordering food. I deemed fusion restaurants unauthentic. Perhaps, fusion restaurants are unauthentic to their native countries, but not for Atlanta, a city with such diversity in both people and cuisines.

~ By Vy Nguyen, current intern at Go Eat Give. Vy was born and raised in a small village in Vietnam and attends Emory University studying Economics and Linguistics.

An Introduction to Laos

Home to the beautiful Khone Papeng Falls (largest in southeast Asia), ornate temples, while being the “World’s Most Bombed Country” from the Vietnam War, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has endured a long history of hardships.  Like most countries in Southeast Asia, Laos has been a target for colonialism from France, as well as Japan. Laos gained independence as a constitutional monarchy in 1953 from the French but with the impact of Vietnam War, they faced their own arduous civil war (1953-1975) that resulted in the establishment of a communist government in 1975. Laos

Currently, Laos struggles to develop as a nation, however it does not stop their people from being known for their honesty and simplicity, often attributed to their Buddhist roots. A large part of Lao culture is derived from the influences of Theravada Buddhism. Even with the invasions from foreign nations, Laos was able to maintain their Buddhist religious culture from the eighth century.  Buddhism is a vital part of the people in Laos. Every village has a Wat (temple) where the people worship daily in the morning and the evening. The most revered Buddhist stupa is thought to be established since the third century, the Pha That Luang is covered in gold, and shines bright in their capital city of Vientiane. Although Buddhist influences dictate an important part of Laotian culture, there are influences far before the establishment of Buddhism.

muangngoi-laos-women-rice field workersMusic and food have been two consistent aspects of Laotian culture that have prehistoric origins. The khene is their national instrument created from bamboo pipes which is traditionally used to play folk music. The khene has uniquely Lao origins and is still used in ritual ceremonies and festivals to courting women.  Stick rice is another staple of prehistoric Lao traditions which has more meaning to their culture than one may think. They consume the most sticky-rice per person than any other country in the world.  Yet, it is more than a tasty part of their everyday meals. They see it as a vital part of their culture, some groups of Laotian people plant a unique khao kam rice near their home in reverence to their dead parents or they will plant it on the edge of their rice fields to indicate that their parents are still alive.

Laos-Khon Phapheng WaterfallThroughout their history of annexation and occupation, they are still able to maintain their culture and thrive in their agricultural industry.  Eighty-percent of their exports is surprisingly not rice! Laos is especially known in the southeast Asian region for their coffee production. They have ambitions to expand their market in beer production and have started creating a buzz around the world.  Laos still encounters many challenges as any other developing country but being able to preserve their culture over the past thousand years has been a remarkable accomplishment for a country that has been constantly exposed to foreign influences.

To learn more about Laos, attend Go Eat Give Destination Laos on March 19, 2016 at Pattaya Cafe in Atlanta, GA. Click here to learn more. 

~ By guest blogger, Lilly Iijima. Lilly is a student at Oglethorpe University pursuing a major in International Studies with a minor in Japanese. Growing up in a multi-cultural household, she has seen first-hand the power of personally experiencing a different culture to eliminate previous misconceptions. Through this work, Lilly is committed to educating others about different countries and regions while learning about them herself.