Houston is a myriad of cultures patched together to make one big, beautiful city. This being my Motherland, I was beyond excited to watch one of my favorite celebrity chefs engulf himself in everything I love about where I came from.
Texas is generally viewed as a state that burns red politically and is untrusting of outsiders, and that is simply not true. It felt so great to have someone shine a light on what I know to be true in Texas, and especially, in Houston.
On this past Sunday’s episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain took us on a journey to explore the diversity of the Bayou City.
He went straight to the source by listening to the stories of several immigrants, hanging out with a local rapper, and crashing a quinceañera.
In truth, immigrants have been a big part of Houston since as far back as I can remember, and even further.
This area is built on the foods, the dances, and the fellowship of immigrants living together, and finding a home in Houston.
Bourdain’s first stop is Keemat Grocers on Hillcroft.
The scene cuts to a party, women in vibrant saris dance between super market shelves, men in their pathani suits, raise their hands in celebration.
There’s a panipuri eating contest and a scene where Bourdain clumsily eats one of these puffy chickpea-filled treats.
His realness is always evident and his intent to be one with the people of the culture he is visiting, always the highest priority.
Himalaya Restaurant sells the kind of authentic Indo-Pakistani food I became accustomed to as I was growing up.
Spicy and vivacious flavors burst in your mouth as if you are watching Bollywood dancers on the big screen.
The mention of a couple dishes proves how much of a melting pot Houston really is.
Green curry chicken, Texas-Desi Style with tomatillos and green chilies, and Hunter’s Beef, a Pakistani spice infused pastrami, prove that when you mix cultures, things just become better.
Bourdain finds himself at a quinceañera where the elaborate evening gowns and synchronized dancing usher a girl into womanhood.
He visits a very real slice of Houstonian life at Lee High School, where the student population is 80 percent immigrant. Bourdain has a typical American school lunch of a fried chicken sandwich and fruit salad cocktail, as he listens to each students’ dreams about what they will make of themselves in America.
Bourdain then goes to Pearland, the Houston suburb where I was raised, he sits around with the new American Family, comprised of several different cultures. Eating tamales with chopsticks and sucking crawfish heads, Bourdain listens to their stories of immigration.
“When a car pulls up, who can it be, a Thug named Slim that’s so O.G., when you think about Houston, you think about me.”
Bourdain meets with Slim Thug over SLAB car culture while Chopped ‘N Screwed music plays in the background. Houston’s own jazz-like rap, where the music slows and distorts until becoming something else entirely.
They talk about how real the people are and how laid back the culture is over Burns BBQ.
Bourdain takes a 90-minute drive down the Coast to Palacio. He visits Vietnamese immigrants and listens of their stories of escape from their war-torn homeland in the 1970s, reiterating the fact that for so many immigrants, American is a safe-haven.
With no money when first arriving to the States, these Americans have truly built the American dream.
Plant It Forward, a non-profit urban garden, where immigrants with an agricultural background are given access to land, so that they can make a living farming.
Bourdain feasts on the produce, hears immigrant stories from Africa, and speculates that the influx of Africans into Houston will add another dimension to this multi-faceted city.
Bourdain concludes with a game of Cricket, tandoori chicken, dosas, and curried goat at the Sardar Patel Stadium.
In the current political air of immigrant hysteria, Bourdain reminds his viewers:
“American was great all along. Some of us just forgot why. It’s great because your grandfather and my grandfather, and just about everybody’s damn grandfather or great-grandfather crammed themselves, snuck, bought their way, or was dragged onto a boat and, one way or another, allowed themselves, eventually, to dream.”
The incredible vibrance of a city like Houston isn’t unique in our country, but sometimes it takes a step back to see the whole patchwork together in one seamless design.