Why Viet Cajun food in Atlanta is opposite of fusion

There’s a reason fusion has become something like a dirty word in culinary circles. There’s nothing wrong with intermingling culinary traditions and flavors, but there are wrong ways to do it. From artificial combinations to co-opting traditional techniques as gimmicks to just outright bad ideas (Think: wasabi mashed potatoes), fusion has become the code word for everything that can go wrong when foods meet.

In a way, that’s why I tend to think of the Vietnamese Cajun food that has begun to thrive in Atlanta lately as almost the opposite of fusion. Both Vietnam and Louisiana are former French colonies with access to good water for fishing shellfish and low land for growing rice. In Vietnam, the French baguette became the perfect vehicle for the banh mi, a crispy sandwich loaded with a little bit of meat and pickled veggies and herbs. In Louisiana, that same bread evolved into the more tender loaf loaded with fried seafood and veggies. The similarities are so numerous, the qualities so complementary, that Viet Cajun food seems to require almost no fusing at all.

Atlantans have long flocked to Crawfish Shack Seafood (4337 Buford Highway, Atlanta. 404-329-1610, crawfishshackseafood.com), which sells much of the same menu you might find at a Cajun joint in Louisiana. When I first moved to Atlanta, I was thrilled to find a place that would sell me balls of fried boudin, a regional delicacy that I rarely come across except when visiting family in Lafayette. The boiled crawfish served at Crawfish Shack is as spicy as anything I’ve ever tasted in a backyard in Baton Rouge, but it also sports a bright, aromatic touch of lemongrass, the culinary contribution of the restaurant’s Vietnamese owners.

Any sense of subtlety is thrown out the window at Bon Ton (674 Myrtle St., Atlanta. 404-996-6177, bontonatl.com), a collaboration between the owners of Crawfish Shack and the cocktail wizards formerly of Top Flr. It’s a restaurant that understands the irreverent character that makes New Orleans distinct. The cocktail menu sports a frozen Vietnamese iced coffee spiked with Jameson and made with chicory coffee and sweetened condensed milk. The blackened catfish banh mi is the sort of thing that Emeril Lagasse might make if he wanted to throw together a Vietnamese sandwich. The Nashville hot oyster roll borrows from many different styles of cooking, including a Hong Kong-style sauce on the side, but most importantly is just delicious.

At Kajun Crab (5000 Buford Highway, Chamblee. 678-580-0294, Facebook: Kajun Crab Pho and Seafood), on the other hand, the similarities between Vietnamese and Cajun food are even more apparent. The menu offers a dish called spicy Cajun corn, a delicious and indulgently greasy stir-fry of corn kernels, chopped shrimp, smoky sausage and fried shallots. It’s very similar to maque choux, a French-influenced dish from Louisiana that I was often told had Native American origins. Yet, it is almost exactly like bap xao, a corn stir-fry with shrimp often sold on the streets in Vietnam.

Even restaurant chains have caught on to the idea. At Loui Loui (3330 Satellite Blvd., Duluth. 678-740-8888, louiloui.com), a budding franchise with locations along the East Coast, boiled crawfish are served with garlic noodles on the side. It’s a common Vietnamese-American side dish that many attribute to Thanh Long, a seafood restaurant in San Francisco. I’ve never heard of garlic noodles being served with boiled crawfish in Louisiana even once, but when they’re tossed in a bag with those spicy, buttery crustaceans in Duluth, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

<<Take a tour of Atlanta’s new fusion revolution:

10 metro Atlanta mashup restaurants to try

Why Viet Cajun food in Atlanta is opposite of fusion

Humble taco a blank canvas for seemingly all the flavors of the world

Nontraditional ramen worthy of its own tradition

Collards go global in metro Atlanta

Creative condiments add zing to meals at Atlanta restaurants

Even fries and tots are getting the fusion treatment

Pizza takes a spin around the world at these metro Atlanta restaurants

Wrap your hands around these global mashups

8 cocktails that stir up global flavors at metro Atlanta bars

Global flavors rise and shine on breakfast menus around metro Atlanta


Inside Blaxican’s fusion cuisine

Inside Bon Ton’s fusion cuisine

Korean and Thai fusion cuisine in Atlanta

<<For fun:

We tried prime rib potato chips -- find out what we thought

Vote: Would you try these crazy food mashups?

From cronuts to Piecaken, these are the food hybrids that made a splash

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Food

Tiki Iniki now open in Virginia-Highland and other dining news from the week
Tiki Iniki now open in Virginia-Highland and other dining news from the week

These are the stories that lit up the metro Atlanta dining scene this week Tiki bar and restaurant Tiki Iniki opened its doors this week at 1044 Greenwood Ave. in the space previously occupied by Illegal Food. Todd Rundgren and his wife, Michele, opened Tiki Iniki in 2013 in Princeville, Hawaii. Rundgren is best known for hits such as "Bang the...
A Southern vegan shares genius recipes, evocative photos
A Southern vegan shares genius recipes, evocative photos

If I said you could make cheese straws, Frito Pie, dirty rice, Salisbury Steak and Hummingbird Cake -- entirely with plant-based ingredients -- would you think I was out of my gourd?  In his fresh, deeply personal and visually stunning cookbook, Timothy Pakron reinvents these iconic Southern dishes and creates a good many more of his own design...
AJC Fall Dining Guide 2018: Dining along Buford Highway
AJC Fall Dining Guide 2018: Dining along Buford Highway

The goat curry at Nam Phuong. The Cheese ’N Cheese at Food Terminal. Sinaloa-style grilled chicken at El Autentico Sinaloense Pollos Asados. Sambal okra at Mamak. Ceviche from one of the colorful food courts at Plaza Fiesta. Viet-Cajun crustaceans from Crawfish Shack Seafood. The spicy-hot, wowza Yo-yo Duck Pot at Sichuan spot...
Tour de Scoville: A quest for the spiciest dishes on Buford Highway
Tour de Scoville: A quest for the spiciest dishes on Buford Highway

Aside from humans, there is only one animal that prefers spicy peppers to other foods. Apparently, tree shrews have a genetic mutation that lowers their sensitivity to capsaicin, the chemical that makes some peppers spicy. Tree shrews gobble up chile peppers with reckless abandon. I may have found my spirit animal. Chile peppers and other spicy foods...
Buford Highway remains the go-to area for lesser-known cuisines
Buford Highway remains the go-to area for lesser-known cuisines

Not so long ago, Atlanta diners had to head to Buford Highway for authentic Mexican tacos, fiery Sichuan fare, real-deal Thai curry and Korean barbecue. Luckily, though, there’s a wealth of global cuisine in metro Atlanta these days. Still, the Buford Highway area remains the place to go if you’re looking to dig deeper into lesser-known...
More Stories