You know that little secret about romance? When you pretend to like something that your significant other is passionate about (even when you have absolutely zero interest)? Of course you do.
My tiny tale of deception begins several years ago, when my then-boyfriend (now husband) asked me out to a dim sum restaurant. Him: “I LOVE DIM SUM! You too, right?” My outside voice: “Of course! Love it. Who doesn’t love dim sum?” My inside voice: “Only a complete neophyte.”
Suffice to say I was completely unmasked as a dim sum newbie, and was cleaning fermented radish out of my purse for a few days. But thankfully times have changed — and he still married me.
Fast forward to my office, where as tourism professionals we realize that above all, food is the fabric of a destination: the sounds, smells and tastes that make a place worth visiting. It is what you remember, share and anticipate. It’s what makes your destination authentic (a widely overused word, second only to #blessed, but I digress).
Gwinnett’s Asian dining scene is just about as authentic as it gets. To say that Koreans like their beef is an understatement, and maybe that’s just one of the reasons why you can find bulgogi or Korean BBQ, all over what we affectionately market as “the Seoul of the South.” It’s in the heart of the Gwinnett Place CID in Duluth, and it doesn’t matter the list – Zagat, Eater.com, Atlanta magazine, or many others, you’ll find Gwinnett’s best Korean spots: Breakers, Iron Age, Honey Pig, and 678 Korean BBQ included in their Top 10s. Second to bulgogi are the sweet and savory treats of over a dozen Korean bakeries, where wide tables are loaded with buttercream buns, bubble teas, macaroons, milk bread, and chewy rice pastries.
However, we have quickly recognized that many of our residents, hotel front desks, and even our local media outlets were not familiar (or perhaps even comfortable with) the Asian restaurant scene popping up from Norcross to Duluth and Suwanee. We decided to do something new in 2016 to familiarize our folks who connect our visitors: create a Korean food tour designed to educate, entertain, and enhance!
Thus, the Explore Gwinnett “Seoul of the South” food tours were born. Our staff ran three tours last year, filling up our local trolley with folks eager to experience hansik, bunshik, galbi, kimchi, and bimbimbap. Our international marketing coordinator, Sarah Park, a second-generation Korean, did an amazing job hosting our industry and media tours, giving them cultural tips, suggestions for drink pairings, and almost always, a hearty welcome from the chef.
Experiences such as our food tours can open your eyes – and I am speaking from personal experience. Understanding the complexities, ingredients, and being shown how to correctly enjoy the meal is a liberating experience.
And the authentic experience clearly resonated with our media attendees — where news of Gwinnett’s Asian dining experiences were written up in the Huffington Post, the Explore Georgia website, USA Today and the Travel Channel’s food website.
After our trial run, we are ready for it to resonate with the general public. In 2017, we’ll open up our “Seoul of the South” Korean food tours to the public for the first time. We’ve had people clamoring for a chance to hop on our magical mystery food trolley, so if you are interested, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re finalizing dates and places in early 2017. And by the way, my anniversary dinner this year? Hong Kong Harbour, where dim sum rules.