AsiaTown Food Tour Series Launches
Your resident office foodie swears by this restaurant in Cleveland’s AsiaTown. She says, “it’s the most authentic Szechuan I’ve ever had”, whatever that means. She explains how this “hot-pot” she loves “turns your mouth numb in the most incredibly addictive way.”
While it sounds absurd that someone would enjoy such a thing, you can’t help but feel like you’re missing out on a unique food-based experience. Eager to expand your palate and repertoire, you search for the restaurant online, only to find they don’t have a website.
Next, you try searching for them on Yelp. Bingo! They have a ton of great reviews. You can’t wait to try this place! The photos alone make your mouth water and you see someone has posted a few snapshots of the menu, so you begin to peruse the options. You’re reading the names of a sea of dishes you don’t quite understand and some scary words (the ones that are in English) are popping out at you…
Intestine… blood… frog… chicken feet…
You slam your laptop shut, unsure of what you’re getting into. You’re looking for the Anthony Bourdain “No Reservations” world-cuisine experience, not “Bizarre Food with Andrew Zimmern”.
How can you try something new when the menu is completely foreign?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a guide in this world of exotic foreign cuisine;
Someone to tell you which restaurants you should try;
A knowledgeable foodie that picks the right kind of dish for your first visit?
(A friendly face who reminds you to remove the paper from the bottom of your BBQ pork bun?)
This is where the AsiaTown Food Tour Series steps into the picture!
You pull into an innocuous parking lot off E 30th and see “Park to Shop” written on the front of a large, authentic Asian grocery store. You’ve passed this place a thousand times, but have never had a reason to park and shop. Today however, there’s a large black school bus parked on the north-side of the lot with a sign reading “West Side Shuffle” plastered beneath its windows in large white letters. This is your caravan for navigating the streets of AsiaTown for the next four hours.
Stepping onto the bus, you’re greeted with a cocktail from a smiling face that welcomes you to the food tour. You grab a seat amidst a group of strangers and sip the exotically flavored cocktail, reminiscent of a drink you’ve enjoyed in the past. Something about the familiar smell of vintage leather bus seats, and the rush of a little alcohol, makes the strangers seem more like friends.
There’s a cute young couple occupying the seat across from you, who introduce themselves with smiles from ear to ear in anticipation of the evening ahead. A few minutes later, the bus is nearly full of chattering voices, and the guide whom greeted you upon arrival is announcing that it’s already time to depart.
At the first stop, passengers empty the bus to enter an authentic Korean restaurant. It’s located in a non-descript shopping plaza that you wouldn’t have noticed in a million years. The group enters the space through a small door with little surrounding signage.
Sitting at a long table next to the friendly couple from the bus, a lady sitting next to you strikes up a conversation about how this is the first time she has ever tried Korean food.
Seven small dishes are placed before you, consisting of vegetables in a variety of shapes and sizes. Your host explains these are “banchan”, a standard part of every meal at a Korean restaurant. She takes you through the pickled cucumbers and daikon, moo and cabbage kimchi, as you proceed to try a little bite of each.
You’ve experienced several new dishes and you’re starting to understand the fresh sweet heat that makes Korean food so popular, and then the star of the meal comes out. Placed in the middle of the table, is a burner with a bubbling hot pot of red broth, vegetables, meat, and noodles inside. You jabber and joke with your table-mates as you all wait for the noodles to cook and cool. You taste the spicy, but manageable, broth and tender ramen as you laugh at stories from the guy across the table. The bill is taken care of by your hosts and you’re free to board the bus and grab the next cocktail.
Drink, ride, chat, eat, joke, repeat.
The night is spent visiting four different restaurants from a range of ethnicities like Cantonese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Thai. Each dish is approachable to the most naïve taste buds while still offering a new notes of flavor to those more discerning palates.
Learn how to properly hold your chopsticks, what time the dim sum carts start on weekends, and other customs when eating these types of food.
You hear stories about the history of AsiaTown that go back more than 150 years as you sit back and enjoy the ride. Meet people who share your love of food and adventure. Make friends that last a lifetime. Find a new dish that you can’t live without.
On the third Wednesday of each month, the West Side Shuffle pulls out shortly after 6 p.m. from the Park to Shop parking lot. Your hosts of the AsiaTown Food Tour Series, Tricia McCune and Matt Bolam of CLEfoodies and Wok n Roll Food Truck, along with Josh Maxwell and Brendan Trewella of Night Market Cleveland, are your interpreters of Asian culture and cuisine for the evening.
They’re on a mission to introduce, or re-introduce, you to what the second largest AsiaTown in the Midwest has to offer. You’ll depart with a newfound love and an appreciation for Asian food, a busload of new friends, and something to tell the whole office about!