How Food Builds a Sense of Community
By Papae Litchfield
Food has a unique capacity to bring people together. It is the center of the biggest moments in our lives as we celebrate birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, holidays, and milestones with family and friends.
One of the best ways to connect with a culture is through food. Every region around the world offers a unique cuisine that reflects the heritage and available ingredients that surround it. When people go on vacation, domestic or international, they seek out local restaurants to gain an understanding of the community and to enrich their experience.
Chattanooga is known for serving up delicious Southern cuisine, also known as “comfort food.” As Southern food has evolved, it has become a record of the people and cultures who have contributed to it. The traditional dishes – okra, collard greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and fried meat dishes – were all introduced by other cultures.
People from around the world have made Chattanooga home and introduced the community to their beautiful heritage through music, festivals, art, and food. So much incredible food. As we embrace other cultures, we share an authentic part of ourselves too.
Here are a few of our favorite locally owned and operated restaurants that are sharing their culture on a plate.
If you have not tried Peruvian food before, then Aji should be your first experience. Everything is made from scratch and has an emphasis on traditional Peruvian flavors including the lomo saltado, ceviche, anticuchos, alfajores – most of which can be served with vegetarian/vegan options.
Coqui Puerto Rican
Picking up fresh ingredients from the local farmers’ markets, Coqui focuses on providing a quality Puerto Rican culinary experience. They have dine-in service and pre-packaged meals you can enjoy at home. Be sure to order the mofongo or the rice plate with your choice of meat, vegetarian, or vegan options.
North Shore District
Savor incredible Portuguese cuisine influenced by the ingredients found in the ocean and cliffsides of the Mediterranean. Dishes included Chouriço (chorizo) flambéed tableside, Surf and Turf served on hot lava rock, Bacalhau (cod), seafood, veggie paella, steaks, and fresh pastas packed with the flavors of piri piri, black pepper, cinnamon, and saffron.
Spice Trail is a celebration of India and features a rotating menu of authentic cuisine using local ingredients along with traditional clothing, jewelry, art, and spices. Explore the bold and adventurous flavors of India with dishes such as Bihari chicken, chana masala, naan, and jeera rice, along with rotating items.
Taqueria Jalisco: Ania Tequila & Mezcal Bar
Taqueria Jalisco started as a food truck and expanded into a small storefront at Miller Plaza and the full-service Ania in the Southside. The menu is filled with flavorful traditional dishes from the south of Mexico including huevos rancheros, sincronizada, and tortas along with some swanky libations including the signature Ania.
Zaya Korean Steakhouse
North Shore District
Zaya offers an interactive experience blending fine dining with authentic flavors of Korea using fresh ingredients. Enjoy beef or vegetable dumplings, kimchi stew, bibimbap, and dry-aged beef, seafood, and pork, and Banchan cooked over a smokeless grill at your table.
North Shore District
OPA serves up some of the best homemade Greek food you will ever have in a tiny, cozy space. There is no menu. When you walk in, they ask if you want meat or vegetarian, seat you, and bring out course one. The sign on the door says, “Do you ask your grandma for a menu?”
Mexican cuisine is one of the most popular in the world, but not everyone can provide the wonderful made-from-scratch dishes like Amparo’s serves up. Their menu of birria tacos, homemade tortillas and tamales, vegetarian items, enchiladas, and much more are bursting with bold flavors and fresh ingredients.
Sitar offers a diverse menu using ingredients and textures inspired by the ancient traditions of India. Their menu offers flavorful cuisine including pakora, samosas, naan, rhoti, chicken vindaloo, tikka masala, and tandoori. Vegetarians can enjoy special dishes such as dal black or yellow, vegetarian thali, and chana sag.
Rain Thai Bistro
Thai cuisine has become a national favorite because they know how to balance the flavor profiles of spicy, creamy, salty, sour, and sweet. Rain’s menu offers fried crispy rolls, fresh spring rolls, steamed dumplings, Tom Yum Goong soup, classic Pad Thai, panang curry, and a full sushi menu.
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