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Southern Comfort the Sri Lankan Way: Sam Fore's Fusion of Kentucky Staples With South Asian Flair

Nestled within Lexington’s diverse culinary scene is Tuk Tuk Snack Shop, a restaurant crafted by nationally acclaimed Sri Lankan-American chef Sam Fore. 

Located at 124 Malabu Drive, Ste. 110, this establishment, the first of its kind in the city, offers a unique menu that fuses Sri Lankan and Southern cuisine and flavors, curated specifically by Fore to entice taste buds in a brand new way.

Fore embarked on her extensive culinary journey through the fervent world of pop-up eateries, where she shared her fresh, meticulously developed recipes with diverse communities across the country. She opened Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites as a pop-up in 2016.

Through her pop-ups, Fore has gained national recognition for her unique recipes in multiple national publications, across the web and on television. 

Fore was named one of Plate Magazine’s Chefs to Watch in 2018, was one of Southern Living’s Inaugural Cooks of the Year in 2020, was named one of Taste of the South’s Taste50 in 2022 and most recently was honored by the James Beard Foundation Awards as a finalist for Best Chef: Southeast.

“As the owner it has been bizarre,” Fore said. “As soon as we opened we were on Bon Appetit’s Most Anticipated New Restaurants listing and there were only ten of those in the nation. It’s insane the support my little pop-up has garnered.”

The longtime chef pursued her latest goal in August 2023, making her reinvention of Southern staples paired with innovative twists on her family’s Sri Lankan recipes a permanent presence in her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.

“When you go in and you want to do something right, you want it to be reflective of you,” Fore said. “I have masks here in the restaurant from the house I grew up in.”

Fore has seen her goals grow as Tuk Tuk has evolved from its original intention as a counter-service business to a dine-in restaurant with customer growth on the rise. 

While developing the Snack Shop, Fore faced a novel challenge — anticipating the local appetite for her unique blend of Sri Lankan and Southern food. However, her creative menu proved popular to a community that was unfamiliar with her new twist on fusion food. 

“To be in Lexington and to be considered something that is changing the restaurant industry is very different because we don’t have anything that kind of crosses borders the way that we do here,” Fore said.

Fore has brought dishes to life such as fried chicken marinated in curry brine and lentil-based corn dogs, introducing a familiarity into Asian Sri Lankan cuisine, resonating with local customers accustomed to the flavors of Kentucky and Southern comfort food. 

Fore welcomes customers to explore and savor the rich tapestry of Sri Lankan cuisine while offering them a comfortable environment equivalent to having family over for dinner. 

The menu accommodates a number of dietary needs, offering options suitable for vegetarians, vegans and those with gluten sensitivities.

“When people come to your home for dinner, they feel comfortable and they want to eat, but when people go to a restaurant they are unfamiliar with, they can be a bit hesitant,” Fore said. “In here I want you to feel welcome.”

Fore also values her diverse crew, which encompasses a range of personalities, statuses and ethnicities, to include multiple points of view which allows her to grow the team as a whole. 

“If you really want to share a cuisine and you're aspiring to be a voice or a mouthpiece for that cuisine, you really do have to believe in it,” Fore said.

Tuk Tuk Snack Shop represents more than just a restaurant; it embodies Fore’s culinary journey sustained by passion, innovation and cultural celebration. 

“I want this to be a place where people can come out and have a bite and leave just a little bit happier,” Fore said. “I’m in it to win it. I’m holding on for dear life. I have made the decision to commit to this and no matter what, I’m going to see it through.”


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