When Tricia McCune and Matt Bolam were planning to start their own business, they were torn between the concept of a food truck and a food tour. Ultimately, they chose the former, hitting the streets with Wok n Roll, but their desire to spread a deeper knowledge of cuisine and culture never faded.
One of their original goals was to introduce more people to the flavors found in AsiaTown. "We wanted people to eat our bibimbap, then go to Korea House and try theirs," says McCune.
The couple finally will get to scratch the food tour itch when they launch the AsiaTown Food Tour, a monthly event in partnership with Night Market Cleveland, the recurring street food extravaganza that attracted thousands to the neighborhood last year.
On the third Wednesday of each month, tourists will climb aboard the West Side Shuffle bus and visit four restaurants while enjoying three signature cocktails along the way. At the end of the evening, attendees go home with a keepsake cookbook. A test run takes place on March 23 and the official launch is April 20.
"We wanted to demystify going to AsiaTown," says McCune. "I know it's daunting for people to walk into a place, have no idea what anything on the menu is and just pick an order. We're working with the restaurants to make things approachable for everybody."
At each stop, travelers will be served family-style meals at restaurants like Li Wah, Korea House, and Siam Cafe, as well as Park to Shop grocery. Downtown's Phuel Cafe also has signed on.
"The whole point is to connect people from across the city back to AsiaTown, but also to let them know how other places are celebrating Asian culture through their food," says Night Market co-founder Brendan Trewella.
At each restaurant, an owner, chef or tour guide will offer up tableside history on both the food and neighborhood. That means your Peking duck at Siam Cafe might come with a lesson on the Chinatown gang wars of the 1930s. At Korea House, you might learn that the budae jigae is called "Army Base Stew" because it was once made from surplus American food (think Spam and hot dogs) following the Korean War.
Randy Hom, operator of Li Wah, says he's seen an uptick in traffic since Night Market visitors gobbled up their vegetarian ginger-scallion noodles and slow-braised pork belly buns. Known for its dim sum, the restaurant will be serving tour guests pork and shrimp-filled sui mei dumplings.
"Educating people about what the different foods are without them being intimidated is important," says Hom.Check out Asiatown Food Tour Series on Facebook for more information and to purchase tickets.