The Spice of Life | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

September 30, 2020 News » Cover Story

The Spice of Life 

Meals out of Misfortune, Part 3

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Among the many bummers of the current pandemic is our collective lack of globe-trotting. Along with being homebound, our ability to savor international cuisines truly has been hindered.

Yet, the resilient spirit of many mom and pop cafes, diners and restaurants enables those of us who yearn for distant horizons and extraordinary flavors to satisfy our cravings and, in exchange, help restaurants keep their lights on and infuse some dollars into their tills.

Our passports may be gathering dust, but we now have the opportunity to deepen our explorations of Greater Salt Lake and get to know those who bring diverse flavors and meal presentations.

To that end, Devour Utah writers were recently assigned to write about "spicy" chefs and dishes. The issue unfortunately did not make it to print, so we are happy to publish their stories here.

In your quest for spice, don't forget to support local cooks through Spice to Go, a tasty way to enjoy Spice Kitchen culinary endeavors via a boxed-meal service prepared by local entrepreneurs. When you sign up, you'll be sent an email on Sunday nights with the name of the chef and the menu for the meal service. Orders need to be placed by Tuesday noon and should be picked up Thursday between 4 and 6:30 p.m. COVID protocols include: curbside pickup and pre-payment only, texting upon arrival so food can be delivered to your car and mask wearing upon being handed your meal. More information is at Square Kitchen SLC, 751 W. 800 South, Salt Lake City, 385-229-4703,

David Lavulo - Pacific Seas Restaurant - NATALIE BEHRING
  • Natalie Behring
  • David Lavulo Pacific Seas Restaurant

Global Palate
Grounded by the pandemic? The flavors of the world await in Salt Lake's many ethnic eateries
By Natalie Behring

Most of us have had our wings clipped due to the coronavirus. But that doesn't mean we have to totally deprive ourselves of experiencing other cultures and cuisines. One of the greatest treasures of living in an immigrant nation is the culinary odyssey available to anyone with a few dollars in their pocket. Salt Lake City and its suburbs have hundreds of restaurants owned by immigrants, serving up flavors of home. Here are some suggestions about where to kick off a global culinary adventure:

Island Memories
Pacific Seas Restaurant

David Lavulo, originally from Tonga, came to Salt Lake City as a new LDS convert in 1974. He studied accounting and worked a mishmash of jobs, from an oil refiner to janitor and landscaper. But he really wanted to work for himself and support his five young children. He started a Polynesian supermarket to serve his community, selling essentials such as banana, sweet potato, breadfruit, New Zealand lamb, coconut milk, corned beef, taro, cassava, fish from the Gulf Coast, and more.

Having worked at his aunt's guesthouse in Fiji in his youth, he'd learned to cook and decided to combine his knowledge of cooking with his ability to get the best ingredients. "I learned that, if you taste the food and it tastes good to you, that means everybody likes it," he says. And when in doubt, he says, he adds coconut milk.

David's favorite food on his menu is the "lu," consisting of taro leaves—the most important plant in the Pacific—stuffed with fish, beef or lamb, flavored with sauteed onions and coconut milk.

Lavulo says local workers from the neighborhood flock to the restaurant for his hearty lunch and generous portions. They tell him, "When we eat the Polynesian food, it lasts long. When we eat a sandwich, an hour later, we are hungry again."

Open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Saturday, for takeout and delivery.

1151 S. Redwood Road, Salt Lake City, 801-975-6565

Afghan Kitchen’s - lamb shank Kabuili - NATALIE BEHRING
  • Natalie Behring
  • Afghan Kitchen’s lamb shank Kabuili

All About the Lamb
Afghan Kitchen

Patrons to Afghan Kitchen are welcomed by the piercing gaze the famous National Geographic portrait of the girl with maroon head scarf. Chef and owner Mohammad Naeem serves a variety of traditional dishes including kabobs, palow (pilaf) and lamb, as well as "fusiony" recipes to accommodate the American palate, such as salmon kabobs and a vegetarian plates like burani chalow—roasted pumpkin cooked in a tomato-based sauce, topped with a yogurt sauce.

Naeem's family fled the war in Afghanistan and settled in Pakistan. As a young man, he started working in a trendy Peshawar restaurant. Starting as a dishwasher, he worked his way up to chef. Coming to the United States in 2003, he found work at local Salt Lake restaurants, all the while learning the American "system" until 2016. At that point, he felt confident enough to open his own place.

Roasted lamb shanks taste like home to Naeem, but American lamb is not really the same, he says. "Back home, the animals are fed naturally," he says. "They don't have antibiotics or chemicals—so the taste is different." Lamb shank Kabuli is one of his most popular dishes—featuring bone-in lamb, slow-cooked, then baked with basmati rice, infused with Afghan spices, topped with raisins and julienne carrots. It's then served with roasted eggplant burani and salad.

Open 3-8 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays.

3142 S. Main, South Salt Lake,

Thailand Tawan’s - Ramphung Saengkeo - NATALIE BEHRING
  • Natalie Behring
  • Thailand Tawan’sRamphung Saengkeo

Heber Heat
Thailand Tawan

At 28, soft-spoken Ramphung Saengkeo, a Latter-day Saint convert, moved to Orem to marry her husband. She grew up in the town of Korat, in northeast Thailand. Her mother was the head chef of the village and prepared meals for official events as well as for festivals at the local Buddhist temple. Ramphung grew up around cooking and, from an early age, loved cooking with her mom.

After decades of working in other Thai restaurants, in early 2020, Ramphung and her husband opened Thailand Tawan on Main Street in Heber, adding a spicy shot of diversity to a community featuring mostly fast-food options and milquetoast diner fare.

Her favorite dish on their menu is the pad kee mao, aka drunken noodles, featuring stir-fried wide noodles, carrots, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, fresh basil with a choice of protein.

Tawan Thai is open for takeout and dine in, Tuesday through Saturday, 12-9 p.m.

32 S. Main St., Heber City,

Omar Abou-Ismail - Rawtopia - NATALIE BEHRING
  • Natalie Behring
  • Omar Abou-Ismail Rawtopia

Living the Dream
Rawtopia Living Cuisine and Beyond

"I dream of food." says Omar Abou-Ismail. It would be hard to find a person with more of an international eclectic upbringing than the charismatic proprietor of Rawtopia. Born in Lebanon, raised in Nigeria, at 16, Abou-Ismail encouraged his father to relocate the family to the United States. "I am very forward thinking, and I felt everyone [in my former country] was backward thinking. In my mind, America was an open country, and there was more opportunity for me here."

He moved with his family and became a geophysicist, working for the government. In 2004, he began to be a "health" person. "My thinking wasn't just the health of the body," Abou-Ismail says, "it was also the health of the planet." He started buying organic foods and creating raw recipes for himself.

Coming from a culinary family (his mom is head chef at Mazza), he says he learned from her and would always call her when trying new recipes and techniques making Lebanese food, "but in a healthy way."

His goal in opening a restaurant was not to build a business, but to create a place to make people healthier. "I'm a food nerd" declared Abou-Ismail. "I don't imitate anyone. This is my calling. I am living my passion."

Rawtopia is open Monday-Thursday, noon-8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, noon-9 p.m. for dine-in, takeout and delivery.

3961 S. Wasatch Blvd., Millcreek,

Brass Smoothies, in the 9th and 9th - neighborhood,  uses fresh, natural and local ingredients whenever possible - CAIT LEE
  • Cait Lee
  • Brass Smoothies, in the 9th and 9thneighborhood, uses fresh, natural and local ingredients whenever possible

Smooth Moves
Brass Smoothies: blending up a more nutritious and sustainable world
By Mika Lee & Cait Lee

Morning walks at Liberty Park, for us, are a sacred ritual. As the sun warms the skin and cool breezes whistle through the trees (many of which have sadly toppled during the recent Salt Lake windstorm), we circle the park and wonder if anything could make the morning any better. We're not yet craving a heavy breakfast, but we want more than a cup of joe or a too-sweet glass of OJ. What else does this area have to offer?

We were delighted to find, tucked away in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, a smoothie bar that's a true favorite of locals. Those not in the know might barely notice a chalkboard sign that beckons morning smoothie patrons. Only after we crossed under a footbridge and through the alley did we hear the hum of blenders, so we ducked inside and entered the magical world of Brass Smoothies.

The eatery is just large enough for a prep kitchen and the juice bar. Hand-drawn art by a local tattoo artist attracted our eyes to the special of the day. We were happily welcomed by a young employee who served up our tasty smoothie with pride. The "smooth-tenders" are fast and efficient, blending high standards into their quality products.

Manager Ashlee House is one of the creative geniuses behind some of the recipes at this incubator. Oftentimes, she's inspired by an ingredient, while other times, she whips up a flavor and invents a name. Mostly women-owned and -operated, Brass Smoothies now has three years of operation under its belt. Other women-operated businesses in the neighborhood have lended support to help the company succeed as a small business.

House feels Brass Smoothies stands out from the competition by providing delicious drinks that are dairy-free, soy-free and sans refined sugar. The result is a flavor-forward concoction with a mysterious creamy texture. "Our products speak for themselves," House explains, as we sample her favorite, the Beetlejuice.

While they use fresh, natural and local ingredients whenever possible, they shy away from labels such as "gluten free" and "vegan." House notes, "We're not targeting a specific group. People who are into our product will come find us."

Items on their menu—such as the chia-seed pudding, granola and raw bars—are housemade, and the bowls are a labor of love, hand-cranked by the smooth-tenders. "What we put into our body changes the way we feel and how we respond to life and our surroundings," House says. The Beetlejuice, for example, may be a delicious fruit punch, but each ingredient plays a detoxifying role—chelate removes metals out of the body, fruits provide vitamin C, cilantro is a detoxifying herb, and both ginger and jalapeno are antimicrobial and antibacterial. In case that's not enough goodness, add-ins and adaptogens are available to fit every need.

As we study Brass Smoothies' menu, we see how each smoothie is distinctly different. From the creamy, sweet and nutty Numero Uno to the spicy and earthy flavor profile of The Boss, there's something for every taste.

The company's sustainability efforts are supported by the staff and cheered on by consumers. Small acts—such as encouraging the use of reusable cups and straws or not offering plastic lids or straws unless requested—helps reduce the prolific waste of the food industry, adding fewer items to the landfill. Brass Smoothies also composts food waste from its processed ingredients. As of August 2019, almost 5,000 pounds of peels, shells, seeds and stem waste have been composted.

So, should you decide to join in on our Liberty Park morning stroll, be sure to top it off with a smoothie and a bowl of steel-cut oats at Brass Smoothies. And prepare for a day a smooth(ie) sailing.

COVID-19 Update: Brass requires masks and only one customer is allowed in the shop to order at a time, while one additional customer is allowed to pick up their order. There is seating on an outdoor patio but when it's busy, it can fill up, so plan accordingly.

925 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City,

Pig and a Jelly Jar’s - Nashville hot chicken sandwich - BROOKE CONSTANCE WHITE
  • Brooke Constance White
  • Pig and a Jelly Jar’s Nashville hot chicken sandwich

Tangy, Twangy
Pig & a Jelly Jar's Nashville hot chicken sandwich brings the spice.
By Brooke Constance White

In addition to music, hot chicken helped put Nashville on the map. Getting your hands on some authentic hot chicken in Nashville is one for the bucket list, but if you can't make it to Music City, then Pig & A Jelly Jar chef Stewart Henderson's take on the classic dish is a great close-to-home alternative. It's a recent addition to their daily menu and has become one of the most popular items with customers, he said, adding that the team worked hard to keep it authentic while putting their own spin on it.

The chicken breast, which is always free-range and hormone-free, is double breaded in their special spiced flour and fried to perfection. It's then topped with a blend of housemade chili oil, cayenne pepper, red chili, mustard, brown sugar and a few other spices, which Henderson said he'd prefer to keep secret, to give it the spicy, tangy flavor associated with hot chicken.

"The spice blend we use includes a few spices that are not usually used in Nashville hot chicken, and I think that really sets it apart from other hot chicken sandwiches," he said, adding that as with all of Pig & A Jelly Jar's menu items, everything is housemade—nothing is frozen or from a can or box.

The crispy fried chicken is placed on a Tuscan bun and topped with housemade pickles and slaw. The slaw blends purple and green cabbage, kale and carrots and is dressed with mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, celery seed, coriander, salt, pepper and a few more secret ingredients.

Henderson, who's been at Pig & A Jelly Jar since May 2019, said that the Nashville hot chicken sandwich has been well received since they added it to the menu. "Altogether, you've got a sandwich that's really balanced between the spicy chicken, the tangy pickles and the creamy slaw," he said.

The sandwich comes with hand-cut french fries that are always fresh and made to order.

COVID-19 update: Pig and a Jelly Jar offers curbside pickup, third-party delivery and dine-in options. They follow all CDC protocols (plus a little extra) and ask customers to wear masks upon entry at their properties. Open daily, Monday-Wednesday, 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Locations in Salt Lake City,
Holladay and Ogden,

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