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

What's all this rain doing to the 2018 vintage? It depends on where you are.

Mother Nature seems to be playing her usual tricks this spring. Cool weather and seemingly incessant rains dampened spirits here in the mid-Atlantic, with flooded cities in the headlines. Perhaps it's the wine nerd in me, but the other day as I was squeegeeing the dog, I wondered what effect this weather was having on vineyards. The 2018 vintage is...
Buss up shut: The Caribbean roti with a catchy name
Buss up shut: The Caribbean roti with a catchy name

There are many styles of roti - none of which should be confused with the fast-casual chain Roti Modern Mediterranean. In places serving the food of Trinidad and Tobago, you're bound to find paratha, also called "buss up shut" (the vernacular for "busted-up shirt"), apropos of the bread's remarkable resemblance to a torn shirt....
A tiki restaurant is coming to Virginia-Highland
A tiki restaurant is coming to Virginia-Highland

A Hawaiian tiki concept licensed from a rock star is coming to Virginia-Highland. Tiki Iniki is set to take over the space at 1044 Greenwood Ave. previously occupied by Illegal Food, What Now Atlanta first reported. Todd Rundgren and his wife, Michele, opened Tiki Iniki in 2013 in Princeville, Hawaii. Rundgren is best known for hits such...
The Whiskey Project opens today in Roswell and other metro Atlanta dining news from the week
The Whiskey Project opens today in Roswell and other metro Atlanta dining news from the week

Here are the stories that made a splash in the Atlanta food world this week. Sweet potato curry, lime cream, spiced pecans, micro greens on the menu at The Whiskey Project The Whiskey Project is opening for dinner service tonight at 5 p.m. in Roswell. Located at 45 Oak St. in the the former home of the now-shuttered Oak Street Cafe, The...
Beer Pick: Wild Heaven Watermelon Blend Emergency Drinking Beer
Beer Pick: Wild Heaven Watermelon Blend Emergency Drinking Beer

Credit: Reid Ramsay/Beer Street Journal Father’s Day weekend is ahead of us, and warm weather is upon us.   Wrecking Bar Brewpub’s Seventh Anniversary Weekend kicks off today. And many more area breweries will be hosting Father’s Day events on Sunday.   But Wild Heaven will be celebrating...
More Stories