EVANSVILLE, Ind. — May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we thought it would be a great time to highlight the diversity of our unique Asian restaurants.
Stretching from India to Hawaii, Asian cuisines encompass everything from spicy curries to cool sashimi.
While Chinese and Japanese restaurants are abundant and busy in our area, other Asian cuisines aren’t so internalized here. We’re going to describe them briefly and challenge readers to sample them all.
You can’t sum up any cuisine in a few sentences, but we’ll give you an idea of what flavors to expect and suggest some of our favorite dishes.
Indian food is built around fragrant spice mixtures. Some dishes are chile-hot, but many are not. Curries and stews might be based on tomatoes and cream like the famous Butter Chicken. They may have a mild creamy sauce with sweeter spices like korma dishes, or be quite fiery as in the case of Vindaloo dishes.
Curries are served with basmati rice or soft and puffy naan flatbread. Vegetarian dishes abound in Indian cuisine, and you’ll find beans and lentils turned into things you’ve never imagined.
Tandoor ovens are super-hot clay pits, and tandoori foods are marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices and lowered inside to cook and gain dark edges in the intense heat.
If you’re new to Indian food, you can’t go wrong with tandoori shrimp or Biryani, a spiced rice dish with meat and vegetables that will please anyone who likes fried rice. Be sure to try pakoras: deep-fried veggies in a chickpea batter served with sweet and herbal chutney sauces for dipping. A final suggestion is mango lassi, a sweet yogurt drink blended with ripe mango that will cool you off if you find yourself a bit chile heated.
Korean food is wonderfully robust and often spicy and sweet at the same time. Big flavors are chile (although not everything is hot-spicy), honey, ginger, rice vinegar, fermented bean paste, toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Spicy-sour fermented cabbage kimchi is eaten as a side dish or as an ingredient in many dishes.
Newcomers to Korean food will love Bibimbap, a bowl of Korean rice topped with stir-fried beef, an assortment of cooked and fresh vegetables, a fried egg, and a sauce based on the ubiquitous gochujang paste — a mixture of chile, bean paste and toasted wheat flour.
Jaya’s Authentic Foods at 119 S.E. Fourth St. offers Korean classics such as galbi, Korean braised short ribs, and chop chae, a delicious stir-fried noodle dish with chicken, beef and pork. At Gangnam Korean BBQ at 518 Main St., enjoy traditional banchan appetizers with each evening meal and dig deep into traditional soups and stews such as Dwen Jang Jigae, a miso-based stew with tofu, beef, vegetables and rice.
Bordered by Thailand, India, China and Bangladesh, Myanmar’s cuisine is a melting pot of influences. There are noodle soups and curries, stir-fried dishes and salads. The only place to get it locally is at the Owensboro Karen Restaurant at 7046 Hwy 56 near Owensboro, Kentucky. Expect to find rich broths, coconut milk, lots of fresh vegetables and tangy spice and herb pastes.
One dish you must try is the tea leaf salad. Fermented tea leaves are tossed with sweet shredded cabbage, tomatoes, lime juice, garlic and an assortment of crunchy spiced fried lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. You’ve never had anything like it, and it is delicious. Another is Mohinga, a traditional creamy soup made with homemade broth, lentils, sliced banana blossoms and noodles, flavored with lemongrass and topped with a boiled egg.
The Owensboro Karen Restaurant splits the menu between Burmese and Thai dishes.
The Yak & Yeti at 815 S. Green River Road is our only restaurant that features dishes of the Himalayas. Nepal is a long, thin country flanked on the north by Tibet and the other three sides by India, and enjoys food influenced by both. The Yak & Yeti has a great following for Indian dishes, but there are some Himalayan specialties you have to try. Foremost are momo, steamed dumplings filled with chicken flavored with ginger, garlic and mild spices. These may be enjoyed simply steamed with dipping sauce, fried with vegetables in a spicy chile sauce or sweet and sour sauce, or in a soup called Jhol Momo with sesame and lemon. One more dish not to miss is Thukpa, a Himalayan soup with noodles, vegetables, chicken and spices.
Thai cuisine is fast becoming an American favorite and no wonder. It masterfully blends flavors of sweet, spicy and sour in preparations that can be light as a lettuce and glass noodle salad with shrimp or filling as a creamy Masaman curry with peanuts, beef and potatoes. Coconut, crushed peanuts, golden-fried garlic and shallots, fresh herbs such as Thai basil and cilantro, chile both dry and fresh, lime juice and lime leaves, brown sugar, ginger and related galangal, lemongrass, dried shrimp and pungent fish sauce (Southeast Asia’s answer to soy sauce) are only some of the riotous flavors in the Thai palette.
Newcomers to Thai food will like mild Pad Thai noodles with shrimp or Pad See Ew, wide springy rice noodles stir-fried with chicken and vegetables. Special dishes to try include Kao Soi, noodles in a rich curry broth with meat and herbs topped with boiled egg and crispy fried noodle strips, and Laarb, a “salad” of ground meat tossed in a sour and spicy dressing with onions and herbs, piled atop lettuce and fresh veggies.
Find Thai dishes at Pangea Kitchen at 111 S. Green River Road, Spicy Thai Cuisine at 601 E. Boonville New Harmony Road; Thai Papaya Cuisine at 1434 Tutor Lane and Thai Chow at 1007 S. McCreary St. in Fort Branch.
Vietnamese food is amazingly light, fresh and healthy. There are some stir-fried dishes, but many meats are char-grilled and almost nothing is deep fried. Vegetable and herb components are often served raw and cool. Fresh green chile, lime, handfuls of fresh basil, cilantro, lemongrass and mint, peanuts, sweet pickled radish and carrots, sugar and fish sauce are flavors found in Vietnamese food. Rice noodles are popular.
The best known dish might be pho, a light soup made with a richly spiced broth with rice noodles and meat or seafood. Each huge bowl is served with a platter of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges and sliced green chile for the diner to add as they eat. Noodle dishes are often topped with fresh herbs and chopped lettuce.
One interesting dish to try is the banh mi sandwich. Because of Vietnam’s long occupation by the French, the cuisine includes baguette sandwiches. Have one loaded with sweet-spicy marinated grilled pork and all the fresh herbs and veggies. Try Vietnamese food at Vietnamese Cuisine at 4602 Vogel Road.