It isn’t all barbecue and fried shrimp along the Redneck Riviera, and Myrtle Beach Olympics fans can find cultural connections with our increasingly diverse dining options.
If you tune into the 2012 London Olympics, which kick off Friday, for the next few weeks you might hear about far-off lands that aren’t familiar to your ears – place such as Eritrea, Seychelles, Brunei Darussalam, Azerbaijan, Vanuatu, the Republic of Suriname are all competing in the Olympiad.
And what the hell is Oceania – isn’t that the mega-conglomerate-nation from George Orwell’s “1984”?
You probably do feel like Big Brother is watching you – and despite a globe of shrinking nationalism and being able to connect via technology with cultures around the world, Myrtle Beach isn’t exactly viewed from the outside as a melting pot - despite the “International” moniker on our airport.
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But wait just a minute, cultural diversity is bubbling below the surface here in the form of various international cuisines you can find – if you dig beyond the neon signs and tourist traps - up and down our 60-mile stretch of Carolina beach. Chef Jan Matthews is in charge of feeding some 17,000 athletes from 205 countries, plus approximately 1 million spectators coming to London during the next couple of weeks. She is working to provide diversity in the menus to make guests feel at home, but she also has said she wants to showcase the best of London’s cuisine, which isn’t all about Fish and Chips. Likewise, it isn’t all barbecue and fried shrimp along the Redneck Riviera, and Myrtle Beach Olympics fans can find cultural connections with our increasingly diverse dining options.
A surge of ethnicity has arrived on the Grand Strand, so we can eat the same foods many of the Olympic athletes grew up on, and some specially-created dishes will be available locally only during the 2012 London Olympics, which run July 27-Aug. 12.
Jimmyz Original Hibachi House, 6108 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach
Everyone knows they can get great Japanese hibachi meals and sushi at Jimmyz, but owner Jimmy Miller’s mom, Kyong Woodle, is Korean, and her Bulgogi is on the menu. Also known as Korean barbecue, Miller takes L.A. Style Short Ribs (thinly cut brisket) and marinates them for 24 hours in soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, black pepper, beef stock, spices and water before grilling them over an open flame.
But during the Olympics, Miller is offering a special Korean dish that he says the athletes probably enjoy on a regular basis.
“The athletes will eat a lot of rice and Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage),” he said, “and there are a lot of different types of Kimchi. My mom has a Kimchi cooler with different compartments kept at different temperatures.”
For $8.95, Myrtle Beach area diners can experience Kimchi at Jimmyz only during the Olympics in a dish he is making called Bibimbap.
Bibim means mixing, and bap means rice in Korean, the chef explained. He layers in a bowl of white rice; vegetables including Kimchee, bean sprouts and julienne carrots, lettuce, zucchini, green onion and white onions; thinly sliced beef marinated in garlic, salt, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil; dried seaweed; any other meat desired; and an over-easy fried egg.
The dish is presented prettily with its layers and colors, and then the diner uses chopsticks to stir it all up and mix the flavors. It’s spicy enough to want to keep a drink handy, but not so spicy as to cause pain.
Redi-et Ethiopian Cuisine, 746 Main St., Myrtle Beach
Sara Seyoum has been serving her healthy Ethiopian meats and vegetables on traditional injera bread to grateful Grand Strand diners for several years now, but the legendary Olympic Ethiopian runners are from a different part of Ethiopia than Seyoum, so they had a different diet.
“The runners live in the high lands,” Seyoum said. “They eat Chikko daily, and they drink a lot of milk, which makes really strong bones. And the area where they live, they have more lung capacity and use oxygen more efficiently.”
Chikko is a blend of toasted barley and clarified butter that looks like peanut butter fudge, but tastes like seasoned grain paste and butter. It’s a perfect energy food for runners such as the famous late Abebe Bikila.
Abebe was the son of a shepherd who ate Chikko, drank milk and ran up and down the mountains who went on to win a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics while running the race barefoot and setting a world record for time. It was the first time a black African Olympian won a gold medal. At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Bikila earned another gold and beat his own world record – six weeks after having an appendectomy.
So her customers can experience the training food of Ethiopian runners, Seyoum is offering free samples of Chikko during the Olympics.
Pacino’s Mediterranean Grille, 3103 U.S. 17 Business S., Garden City Beach
Pacino’s is known for Italian and Mediterranean specialties, but owner Rania Kawar is Lebanese, and she serves many of her homeland specialties. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, she was making Kibbeh.
“It’s a multi-day process for the quantity I make,” she said while sliding intricately scored slices of the brown beef and cracked wheat dish from a huge pan.
Kawar soaks cracked wheat and runs it through a food processor and combines it with a mixture of ground beef and onions before it takes another spin through the food processor. When the Kibbeh is assembled, she spreads a layer of cracked wheat and beef in the pan, tops it with ground beef and onions, and caps it with another layer of the wheat/beef combo. She scores the top layer in narrow rows and pops it in the oven to bake.
An appetizer version of Kibbeh involves taking a small amount of the wheat/meat mixture and forming it into a small egg shape. Kawar uses her finger to poke a hole in one end, which she fills with the ground beef mixture before sealing it closed and deep-frying the morsel.
Kawar says Kibbeh is just one small part of traditional family meals that go on for three or four hours at Lebanese restaurants or homes. First they have cold appetizers such as Hummus and Baba Ganoush, sip Arak (an anis-flavored 100-proof spirit mixed with water and ice) and smoke hookahs. The next course is hot appetizers, such as Kibbeh, sausages and savory pastries, with the smoking and drinking repeated. The main course is either a variety of fishes or a variety of meats, with more Arak and tobacco, before the meal is finished with platters of fresh seasonal fruits.
Kawar encourages people who’ve never tried her Lebanese specialties to enjoy some during the Olympics, or any time.
McCann’s Pub & Eatery (a.k.a. Ye Olde Bull & Bush Pub & Eatery), 4700 U.S. 17 Bypass S., Myrtle Beach
John McCann had to change the name of his English pub, at least temporarily, due to an ongoing trademark issue, but he is still serving Fish and Chips, Shepherd’s Pie and other classic English dishes that London visitors will sample during the Olympics.
McCann is eagerly looking forward to Olympic soccer matches – soccer fans regularly gather at McCann’s to cheer their favorite teams – and he is offering a special entrée during the games. For $14.99, sports fans can dine on a 12-ounce portion of Roast Lamb in red wine, rosemary, garlic and oregano served with roasted potatoes and asparagus.
Side note: The world’s largest McDonalds was built in London explicitly for the Olympics, with 3,000 square feet spread over two stories that can feed 1,200 people per hour. McDonald’s has exclusive rights to sell chips during the Olympics, according to a report in London’s The Guardian newspaper, so no other fish and chips vendors can sell chips by themselves – diners have to get the fish, too.
Café Old Vienna, 3901 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach
Those Austrians are so healthy, climbing around the Alps and yodeling and milking cows. OK, so that’s an exaggeration, but Werner Horvath and Martina Horvath at Café Old Vienna do have special light and healthy menu options for Olympics fans.
Three wraps can be filled with chicken, turkey pastrami or just veggies, and they’re served with a choice of sides: marinated tomato salad, cucumber salad, potato salad or hand-cut fries.
They also have a Fitness Salad, which is Romaine hearts, tomatoes and cucumbers surrounding a scoop of Austrian Potato Salad. The salad can be topped with grilled or fried grouper, breaded Brie or grilled shrimp.
Want more ethnic influences while you enjoy the Olympics?
These local restaurants go beyond Americanized Italian or Mexican.
King David: The Kosher Moroccan & Mediterranean Café, 1711 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach
Halal- and kosher-certified foods are going to be served at the Olympics, and there’s kosher aplenty at King David, where Marrakech Pita, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Falafel and Israeli salad are served.
Mama Rue’s Blues Garden, 9737 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island
These are the summer Olympics so we can’t make jokes about the Jamaican bobsled team, but we can still get our fill of Chef Eric Sutherland’s Jerk Chicken, Jerk Pork, Curried Chicken, Oxtail and Plantains.
International Kitchen, 2126 S.C. 9 E., Longs
Polish specialties from a Polish chef and his family include Pierogies, Golobki (cabbage rolls), Pork Schnitzel and Placki Ziemniaczane (potato pancakes).
Thai Cuisine, 1210 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach
A locals’ hangout in downtown Myrtle Beach, Thai Cuisine is tops for lovers of dishes from Thailand such as Crispy Peanut Chicken, many fabulous curry choices and healthy lettuce wrap appetizers.
eNoodles, 400 20th Ave. S., Myrtle Beach; and 110 U.S. 17 S., North Myrtle Beach
Among Thai, Japanese and Chinese dishes are several Vietnamese specialties. That country’s often-overlooked delicacies include Vietnamese Crab Spring Roll and Vietnamese Noodle Soup.
Flynn’s Irish Tavern, 421 Main St., North Myrtle Beach
The ambiance feels authentically Irish, and the menu would make any Irish athlete hungry with choices like Smoked Salmon, Guinness Stew and Seared Irish Cod.
International Café, 221 N. Main St., North Myrtle Beach
If you can’t decide which country’s cuisine you want to enjoy during the Olympics, head to International Café. It’s like a mini United Nations where dozens of international beers bring people together to watch sports and eat everything from American Corn Dogs to the Turkey Trotsky Sandwich, French Onion Soup and the house specialty Bratwursts.