A large platter of Korean fried chickens, large plates of noodles, a variety of rice cakes, large cuts of fried vegetables, and various other exotic Korean dishes came to the table. The guests swarm in with smart phones and expensive cameras, snapping photos from different angles. All around me, thumbs are busy posting and updating social media, #koreanfood, #instafood, #exploregwinnett, #seoulofthesouth, #foodtour.
I'm sitting in a corner booth in Harue Food & Cafe off of Peachtree Industrial Blvd. Around me are notable food writers, bloggers, social media specialists, and local foodies. Up until 30 minutes ago, most of us did not know each other. Now, weíre passing plates, chatting, laughing and finding one anotherís Twitterís handle. Without doubt, we all share a common obsession of food.
The team of Explore Gwinnett had organized this event, creatively called Seoul of the South, a Korean food tour in Gwinnett. Guided by Sarah Park, International Marketing Coordinator of Explore Gwinnett and the animated colleagues, we ventured through Duluth in a small charming tour trolley. Park grew up in America, but was born in Korea. She is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Korean food and culture, having been back to her home country a few times and having frequented the majority of the Korean restaurants in town. Park thought Harue Food & Cafe is a fitting first stop for our tour, as these are quick snacks and small bites, food of enjoyments.
The hosts of Harue Food & Cafe kindly greeted and welcomed us. They brought out specialty dishes and explained each one in details. A personal favorite was the Spicy Rice Cake with Noodles. To only sample a few items became a challenge, as everything was so addictingly delicious.
On to the trolley again as we ventured to Pleasant Hill Road, unofficially known as K-Town. Explore Gwinnett introduced us to The Stone Grill, where generous selections of meat were grilled before our eyes. Condiments such as Napa cabbage kimchi, pickled radish, salad with spicy dressing accommodated our meal. The servers busied themselves between tables, flipping meats on the grill and filled everyoneís plate with mounts of juicy cuts.
“This is what we eat at home, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner,” Park said. “There is no Pop-Tarts or cereal here, we eat spicy tofu soup, or steamed rice with meat or kimchi. Itís rich, savory, flavorful, and we love it.”
With full and very satisfied bellies, we walked over to Tree Story – a rustic, beautiful Korean bakery. The air is filled with the scent of fresh baked breads, coffee, and sweets. A large display of cakes, pastries, and cookies set before us. Oohs and Ahhs were sound as more photos were taken of the breathtaking sight. We sipped Korean coffee, tea, and Yujacha, a traditional Korean tea made from the citrus fruit yuzu. I got a chance to speak with Sarah Parkís husband, Michael Park. Being a fellow foodie, Michael had volunteered his time to help with the tour. “I feel like it is up to us, the second generation immigrants, to educate and share our culture with other communities,” he said. “Our parents have worked hard to open these businesses, so we can experience our culture away from the original homeland. Now it is time to share that with the rest of the world, and what better way to pave that road than through the likes of food. We all eat, and we all can appreciate food.”
Our tour comes to an end, but not without a final feast. Our trolley pulled up to the lot of Breakers, famous for taking Korean BBQ to a more elevating level. Breakers owner Bobby Kim strive to deliver a higher quality dining experience in Korean cuisine. From very well trained staff members, to utilizing modern technology such as smart watches for servers to be notified when guests need service, to more desirable cuts of meat, Kim has set a high standard for fine Asian dining. In fact, Breakers was just ranked the best restaurant in Atlanta by Atlanta Eats. Along with marinated beef, or bulgogi, and fatty pork belly, or ogyeopsal, we were also treated with soju, a popular Korean alcoholic drink. What a great way to end the afternoon.
Rave reviews must be given to the Explore Gwinnett team. We hope more tours will be offered, whether in food or other cultural experiences. Being one of the most diverse counties in Georgia, we are proud of what Gwinnett has to offer and cannot wait to see what Explore Gwinnett has in store in the near future.