An Independence Day full of “traditional foods”

For most of our years together, Chris and I have enjoyed celebrating Independence Day here in the U.S. by getting the hell out of this country and exploring a beautiful land elsewhere. Last year, we were miserably stuck in New York because of the still-raging COVID-19, but this year, we spent it exploring Houston, and when I say “exploring,” I really mean exploring all the delicious, multicultural food that makes Houston so colorful to me.

We started the day with a drive to Bellaire Blvd, which is known for having miles and miles of endless Vietnamese businesses ranging from medical, dental, and legal practices to of course, endless Vietnamese markets, bakeries, and restaurants. Chris found us a spot that was the epitome of every delicious Vietnamese bakery in San Jose and Westminster, California: it had an endless array of Vietnamese desserts (che), banh mi and drinks, and Central Vietnamese snacks laboriously steamed and wrapped in banana leaves such as banh bot loc (tapioca dumplings filled with shrimp), banh beo (disc-shaped steamed rice dumplings topped with scallion oil and shredded dried shrimp), and banh it tran (one of my all-time favorite snacks growing up that my mom would purchase in Vietnamese bakeries: boiled glutinous rice balls stuffed with mashed mung beans, minced pork and shrimp, topped with shredded shrimp, fried shallots, and scallion oil). When I walked in, I felt literally paralyzed by all the options we had. I had no idea where to even start because I really wanted at least one of everything.

In the end, I ended up getting a chicken banh mi, an iced coffee, and an banh gio (a steamed rice tamale stuffed with minced shiitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, pork, and a quail egg). It was a bit early, so I decided we didn’t have enough room to get dessert even though I really wanted some che and pandan tofu. THIS PLACE MAKES THEIR OWN FRESH TOFU. Fresh tofu is one of my biggest loves; few things top freshly made, hot, steamy tofu for me. The food was all delicious from here, but I still really wanted to try their dessert.

For lunch, we went to an Indian spot and had some delicious lamb biryani, saag paneer, and a steamed salmon spiced and wrapped in a banana leaf. The portions everywhere we went were huge; we had so much food leftover.

And for dinner, we ended our 4th of July at an Ethiopian spot in a somewhat residential neighborhood: we shared a huge platter of different Ethiopian lentils, vegetables, and meat stews. Next to South Asian lentils, Ethiopian lentils, especially the split peas, are one of my very favorite bean preparations. But what stood out to me the most was the injera itself: the server asked if we wanted injera or teff injera. I was a bit confused because I always assumed *all* injera had teff, the Ethiopian grain that gave the injera bread its distinct sour taste. The server explained that injera did have teff, but teff injera had even more teff, and therefore was more authentic and expensive to make, so it would incur an upcharge. We chose the teff injera, and I had zero regrets: it was a deep, dark brown color, far darker than the tan-colored injeras I’d previously had. And it had such a rich, sour, distinct flavor. I was obsessed with this bread and just wanted to eat more of it. That entire meal was ridiculously good.

Vietnamese, Indian, and Ethiopian food – just what the founding fathers would have approved of to celebrate the Fourth of July!

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