Anthony Bourdain and his CNN show, Parts Unknown filmed an episode in Houston (with a brief trip out to Palacios, which aired Sunday (10/30) night. Part of the episode can be watched on CNN’s site, here.
He had lunch at Kaiser Lashkari’s Himalaya, took the field with the Houston Indian Cricket Club. watched, starstruck as Masala Radio owner Sunil Thakkar and dancers took over the aisles of Keemat Grocers and performed a Bollywood dance that wouldn’t be out of place on a Broadway stage,
In between shots of Houston’s freeways jammed with traffic, Bourdain waxes philosophically about the nature of Houston, its history and place in American society. Houston has always been something “other” when it comes to America, but at the same time, it is more “American” than any other city.
Bourdain then journeyed to my old hometown of Pasadena, a suburb of Houston which he incorrectly labels a “neighborhood.” Fast fact – Pasadena (or as locals variously refer to it, “Stinkadena” or “Pasa-Git Down-Dena”) is the 19th largest city in Texas, with a population over 152,735. There, Tony attends a quinceañera, and is astonished by the number of guests for a girl’s 15th birthday party.
Of course, part of visiting Texas involves enjoying Texas barbecue, and since East Texas barbecue is different from Hill Country BBQ, Bourdain accompanies rapper Slim Thug to Burns BBQ – an Acres Homes institution – where he enjoys brisket, pork and beef ribs, sausage, and meat-stuffed baked potatoes the “size of a human head.” He also gets an immersive primer on Houston’s “Slab” car culture (look it up).
Bourdain visits Lee High School (which was recently renamed Margaret Long Wisdom High School after the Confederate school name controversy) where he spends time talking with Principal Jonathan Trinh (a former Vietnamese refugee) and encounters Houston’s amazing (UN-like) diversity firsthand. He takes a school lunch in the cafeteria with recent immigrants from Burkina Faso, El Salvador and Iraq. The experiences the kids share with him serve to illustrate the nexus point for immigration that Houston has become, and their hopes for the future show that Houston’s future is bright as well.
At Plant It Forward Farms, owners Albert and Gertrude Lombo served Cajun-Congolese food and talked about how accepting, open and friendly Houston is, which not only flies in the face of popular perceptions in media that Texas is a closed-minded, xenophobic place – it helps to shatter the myths. The fact that many of the other guests at the table speak openly about their desire to bring relatives to Houston from Africa speaks volumes.
Tony also makes the short (by Texas standards) 90 minute trip to Palacios, southwest of Houston. After spending some time on a shrimping boat, Bourdain stops in at The Point, a Vietnamese restaurant and convenience store operated by former Vietnamese “boat people” who fled the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. There, he dines on Phở (which had the most beautifully clear, golden broth I’ve ever seen) and migas tacos.
The episode placed the kindest light on Houston and served the city well. Our friendliness, diversity, resiliency, generosity and are all on display and become prominent and predominant features – the norm rather then the exception. As a whole, it was an episode that painted Houston in the best possible light, showing the world what we all know to be true; Houston is a great place to live.