I recently had the privilege of riding along on Columbus Food Adventures’ Meat Lover’s Tour, as we travelled around town tasting some of Columbus’ most excellent carnivorous creations and meeting the folks who prepare them for the masses. In my previous post (Part 1 of my Adventure, which you can read here), I detailed the incredibly fresh and flavorful poutine that was prepared for us by Chef Kevin Caskey at Skillet, followed by the delicious spread of specialty meats and cheeses, and our tour of the facility at Thurn’s. But that was only the half way point of our trip – the night was still young, and we had plenty more sampling ahead of us….
The third stop on our tour was for Pakistani cuisine at the side-by-side, strip mall market and restaurant combo of Apna Bazaar and Tandoori Grill. Apna Bazaar was originally started as an ethnic grocery and market which has a small counter in the back of the shop where they sold (and still sell – mostly carry-out) some of the freshest house-made Pakistani foods in Columbus. This is actually a pretty common practice of many small ethnic markets, to sell prepared foods inside as well. At Apna Bazaar, the food was such a success that they opened a full-time restaurant right next door. We entered through the market side, had a brief stop at the back counter, and quickly moved to the back of the house where all of the cooking takes place. There we were educated on the technique of tandoori cooking. A tandoor is a clay oven in which a very hot fire is built, and is used to cook many types of marinated meats, usually on skewers.
The cook (I believe his name was Han) also showed us the incredible technique of cooking naan. Naan is a light, airy, and rapidly-baked flatbread that resembles a large pita or flour tortilla. The naan is prepared and slapped on the inside wall of the tandoor oven to cook, where it only needs about 2-3 minutes to bake on the inside and get crispy and bubbly on the outside. It is then retrieved from the oven with long metal rods and served hot. We had the opportunity to taste it right out of the oven, and it was delicious.
At this point, we were escorted through the kitchen and into the restaurant side of the operation, where we all gathered for a huge, Indian-Pakistani meal.
We started with an appetizer of chicken samosas. A samosa is a fried or baked pastry with a savory filling such as spiced potatoes, lentils or meat. The outside was pretty similar to an egg roll – flaky, deep-fried goodness. Inside was a delicious blend of ground chicken and spices. A simple offering, but one of my favorites of the entire evening. It was served with a creamy yogurt sauce for dipping, which was very good also.
We were also treated to several large platters filled with tandoori-cooked boneless chicken, as well as beef, chicken and lamb Seekh kabobs, and Chicken Karahi (bone-in) and rice. It was an unbelievable feast, and everything was spicy and aromatic, succulent and delicious. Honestly, Tandoori Grill is probably not a place I would ever have gone on my own (or even known was there), but now that I’ve been, I will be taking my family and friends there every chance I get.
Our final stop was just a couple of doors down on Bethel Rd., at San Su Korean BBQ. The style of Korean BBQ cuisine is one of community, which means eating in groups. Many of the tables at San Su were built to include grills at each table, where the cook prepares various meats while you and your guests enjoy the show. We started with a variety of ban chan, or side dishes, which were all served cold. Many of them were traditional kimchi dishes, which are basically fermented or pickled vegetables with a variety of seasonings. Several were made with radishes or cucumbers, but my favorites were the cole slaw and the bean sprout sides.
Our chef was more than happy to take us step by step through the process of preparing the night’s meal. She started by grilling up some galbi, which is a marinated beef short rib. While she was grilling, another server brought steamed rice for each of us, as well as a tray of crisp lettuce leaves and sauces for the table.
Once the galbi was prepared, the chef cut the meat into pieces with shears and passed the plate of short rib around the table. The traditional way of eating is to take a couple of pieces of the meat, fold them into a lettuce leaf, and top with sauce. Then just pick it up and eat it. The flavor of the meat was very rich and savory, and it was extremely tender. The sauce tasted like it might have been a peanut sauce of some kind. It complimented the meats very well.
She then grilled a dish called bulgogi, which is a thinly sliced beef sirloin. It was prepared the same way as before – grilled and cut into pieces. Before the bulgogi was passed around, I had already prepared my lettuce wrap by adding a spoonful of steamed rice to the leaf. I then piled a portion of the thin-sliced beef on top of that, added a few bean sprouts, and that delicious sauce. I actually preferred the thin beef to the short rib, simply because it seemed lighter and easier to eat, although the flavors were similar. Adding the rice and bean sprouts added more texture as well, which was nice.
And that was the Meat Lover’s Tour. It was an entertaining and educational evening filled with good food and good conversation. Overall, the tour lasted almost four hours, but according to our tour guides Bethia and Andy, each Columbus Food Adventures tour can vary in length, and most run for at least three hours. If you are interested in taking the Meat Lover’s Tour, or any of the many unique, informative and delicious food tours that they offer, I highly recommend it. They are ideal for showing off some of Columbus’ unique local eats to out-of-town visitors, as a date night out with your significant other, or to just go it alone and learn more about the culinary landscape of our great city and to have some good grub. And good grub is definitely what I’m all about!!