A weary traveller can be forgiven for expecting typical food in a highway restaurant, even in a nice place like the Skky Hotel in Whitehorse.
Instead, at the Hue Oasis Asian Fusion Restaurant and Bar, they find a passionate dedication to South Asian cuisine in an elegant and warm atmosphere.
Heavy cherry-wood chairs sit upon warm-coloured tiles around a propane fireplace. Yet there is a sense of fun in the décor as kitschy ads hang as art here and there.
And there is a sense of fun in the menu, too, as the weary traveller’s eyes fall upon a kimchi bulgogi poutine.
“Yeah, it is fun,” says Jay Jung, the owner and operator of Hue Oasis. He is just as fun and passionate as his restaurant.
“This fusion of Korean and Canadian has turned into a favourite.
“There is bulgogi beef in there and a lot of flavour and mozzarella cheese.”
It should be explained, here, that bulgogi kbeef is a signature in Korean food. It is thinly sliced meat, marinated for tenderness and the flavour of the carefully chosen spices, and then grilled to sear in all of that flavour.
(Full disclosure: this writer is addicted to it.)
“It is the soy and garlic sauce,” explains Jung. “The meat is very fresh and cooked just before serving.”
It is sweet and salty.
“That is what bulgogi is,” Jung says, happy that he has met someone who appreciates this cornerstone of his culture’s cuisine.
When you eat the beef yaki udon, made with the bulgogi beef, it tastes better as you get closer to the bottom.
Jung explains that it is still cooking as it is served and more flavour comes out.
Now, imagine our weary traveller biting into the Korean barbecue bulgogi sandwich. He may have been expecting a typical burger, but he is now getting a lot more meat and a lot more flavour.
Pickled onions and Korean-style barbecue sauce come along with that flavour-packed bulgogi beef.
But not everyone wants a big meal. Jung says some people are off of a late flight, or they are just waiting for a delayed one, and they want a light meal.
That is why the Japanese contribution to this fusion is so popular. Sushi is just rice and fish and spices.
And there is lots to choose from. An entire page in the menu is full of different types of sushi – and the next page, too.
“Sushi rolls are like pizza,” Jung says. “With dough and a tomato base, you can make many types of pizza with the combination of toppings.”
Speaking of pizza, the menu brings back the fun with a sushi pizza.
“Oh, yes,” says Jung. “Nobody in town has a sushi pizza – it is a very exciting dish. The crust is made from rice and the base is either a spicy-mayo, sweet-mayo or barbecue sauce.
“A lot of people like it.”
So, what is the difference between Japanese and Korean foods?
Even though Jung spent his 20s cooking in restaurants in South Korea and has worked in a couple of Korean restaurants in Whitehorse, he struggles with the question.
“Somebody told me that Japanese food is created by the knife; sushi is delicate and the touch of the knife is very important.
“Chinese food is about the fire as the flavour comes from the size of the flame and level of heat; in Chinese restaurants, you don’t cook vegetables for more than 10 seconds.
“Korean food comes from the fingers; it is the mother’s touch of delicate seasoning.”
Even the name of the restaurant is a fusion of South Asia: “Hue” is a typographical character that is shared among the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. It looks like a tree.
“What do you do under the tree?” Jung asks. “You rest. And, in the desert, you need an oasis.”
Therefore, the Hue Oasis.
The Hue Oasis Asian Fusion Restaurant and Bar is located in the Skky Hotel, on the Alaska Highway across from the airport. It is open Tuesdays through Saturday from 11:30 am to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. for dinner. On Sundays they close at 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended by phoning 668-6440 or 456-2400.