Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hunting for History: Exploring the Food of a Modern Land

By Jeff Burns

My wife and I decided to undertake a foodie quest this summer. We would have lunch at a different restaurant that we’d never eaten at before. We would seek out restaurants that either represented different ethnic cuisines or restaurants of historical or culinary distinction that we had read or heard about in the metro Atlanta area. Together we would sample the food of the modern South.

           We started out kind of accidentally. On Saturday, we were in North Georgia and decided to eat late lunch in Gainesville. We stumbled on Supermercado & Restaurante Carrillo El Guero (730 Pearl Nix Parkway). Of course, Mexican food isn’t exactly new to us; it’s one of our favorites, but this place was different. This place was a large Mexican supermarket with a small restaurant attached, obviously catering to the large Mexican population in the area. This place offered authentic Mexican food, not the Americanized or Tex-Mex version. Tacos and soups are the main focus of the menu, and they feature ingredients that Americans may not necessarily consider on Taco Night, but which are extremely popular in Mexico: spicy pork (al pastor), beef tongue (lengua), beef tripe (stomach), beef cheek, beef brain, chorizo (spicy sausage), and goat.

              As soon as we were seated, we served chips and a delicious salsa, along with a ceviche – a dish made by during raw fish in lime juice with peppers and onions. We ordered pork, tongue, and chorizo tacos, and a shrimp cocktail. The tacos arrived in authentic Mexican style, just meat on small homemade masa corn meal tortillas, without the usual American condiments. They were delicious. We were more than filled, and the bill for the two of us was under $16. It was a great lunch!

         On Monday, we decided to go for Korean BBQ and went to Buford Highway in Atlanta. If anyone doubts Atlanta’s position as an international city, he or she only needs to go to the Chamblee/Doraville area to find stores and restaurants catering to just about every ethnicity possible. Unlike larger cities with specific areas like Chinatown, Little Italy, or Little Havana, the Buford Highway area is a jumble. You might see Cuban, Korean, Vietnamese, Peruvian, Mexican, Persian, Indian, and Malaysian businesses in the same shopping center. Koreans have become a large minority in metro Atlanta, and many businesses have only Korean lettering.

We settled on the So Kong Dong Tofu House, located between the Hyundai Barber Shop and a Ping Pong Hall (5280 Buford Hwy). So Kong Dong is named after a neighborhood in Seoul. It’s all about choice at So Kong. You can choose any combination of tofu soup, Korean BBQ, or savory pancakes made with leeks or scallions, for example. With your order, you get a selection of side dishes collectively called banchan, mainly noodles, pickled vegetables, and kimchi, but also including fried fish. We ordered mushroom tofu soup, seafood tofu soup, and BBQ beef. Another great meal, but a little more expensive, about $15 each.

Our quest was a great success. Not only did we discover great new foods and restaurants, but we really experienced Atlanta in a new light, as a truly international city.

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