Viet-cajun crawfish is the most delicious expression of houston’s diverse culinary identity – eater houston

After the fall of Saigon and South Vietnam in 1975 and on into the 1980s, the United States welcomed three waves of Vietnamese immigrants seeking refuge and a place to start anew in cities across the country. Best seafood in wildwood nj Today, it is still home to the largest Vietnamese population in the world, outside of Vietnam. Best indian restaurants in chicago While the largest group settled in southern California, Houston was a natural fit for many with its familiar sub-tropical climate and proximity to water that enabled newcomers to continue involvement in the seafood trades.

“Houston has always been one of the centers of Vietnamese culture in America and it has really been since that first wave,” says Dr. Best seafood restaurants in new york city Robert Buzzcano, professor of history and expert on the Vietnam War at the University of Houston. Best cheap eats in chicago “You have the huge Vietnamese markets and well known spots like Kim Son and Mai’s. Best fast food places near me Around here, it’s just accepted as one of those parts of our culture and our cuisine that we take for granted. Best restaurants near times square You might ask ‘You want to go out for Vietnamese?’You never would have said that 40 years ago and now no one would think twice about it.”

Many of the immigrants who didn’t head to Galveston or Kemah to work on the water set down roots in what is now considered Midtown, near Louisiana and Milam streets, in a community then known as Little Saigon. Best seafood in miami beach In the ensuing decades, the population of Houston’s sprawling metropolitan area became home to the country’s third-largest population of Vietnamese immigrants, or more than 81,000 people. Soul food restaurants in new york For perspective, Houston’s 2016 population of 6.3 million people includes more than 1.4 million immigrants of all nationalities, making it the most diverse city in the country.

Eventually, the local Vietnamese community shifted its hub to the west side of town along bustling Bellaire Boulevard in the city’s Asiatown district. Soul food restaurants in newark nj Wherever you are, though, excellent Vietnamese restaurants can be found all over Houston. How to get free food from restaurants More than 40 years after the first immigrants made their home in Space City, the blending of traditional Vietnamese flavor with ingredients from the nearby Gulf make for one of the most delicious expressions of Houston’s culinary identity: Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish.

Digging into a pile of boiled crawfish on a cool spring afternoon, bucket of beer at arm’s reach and the sounds of Zydeco drifting on the breeze is a hell of a way to spend a few hours in southeast Texas. Fast food restaurants delivery But that’s not the only way to enjoy good mudbugs —or, depending on who you ask, even the best. Fast food restaurants near my current location Across town, locals are ordering up mounds of crustaceans coated in garlic butter or tossed in ginger, lemongrass, scallions and other “less traditional” additions.

Thanks to the easy pairing of Vietnamese traditions with Cajun flavors, the resulting “Viet-Cajun” cuisine is fast becoming one of Houston’s most sought after fusions. Seafood restaurants near my location While crawfish are not indigenous to Vietnam, the unavoidable French influences that came with the country’s occupation are similar to those that inspire the cuisine of the Gulf Coast. Best seafood restaurants in san francisco Pair that with the proximity of new immigrants to their Cajun neighbors, and the culinary merger was virtually inevitable.

Not only are crawfish boils boasting makeovers (or upgrades, depending on whom you ask), but mainstays like pho, fried rice, crab and shrimp are also finding new neighbors in terms of seasonings and Asian ingredients. Best mexican food restaurants The blend is not as surprising as one might think given that both cuisines rely heavily on seafood, carbs (in the form of rice, noodles or bread) and heat with bold flavor through a variety of chiles, spices and seasonings.

It’s not entirely clear just when the first Viet-Cajun concept opened for business, but the trend has been going strong in Houston for at least 15 years – the earliest mention of popular shops like Cajun Corner (now closed), Lucky Number 9 and Crawfish and Beignet we could find was published in 2002 but surely the origins began much earlier, even if those kitchens weren’t open to the public but were instead tucked away inside the kitchens of mothers and aunts across the city.

Just as the history is somewhat vague, the exact definition of Viet-Cajun cuisine varies from establishment to establishment, with each cook and owner developing his or her own take on the final result. Best soul food restaurants As is the case in many kitchens, sauce recipes are closely guarded secrets and even something as relatively simple sounding as “garlic butter” may contain upwards of 15 or more ingredients ranging from the obvious inclusions to tamarind, habanero peppers and roasted onions. Best seafood restaurants in los angeles Likewise, it’s difficult to pinpoint one set of defining characteristics that signify Viet-Cajun cuisine though bold flavors are pretty much a guarantee.

Plastic bags are used to serve the crawfish to ensure that none of that delicious butter goes to waste. Best seafood restaurants on long island Ellie Sharp

Trong Nguyen of Crawfish and Noodles says that when he opened in 2008, there were few if any other options for the distinctive flavors of Viet-Cajun crawfish. Seafood restaurants in the area While Cajun Corner and Boiling Crab (an import from California) did exist, their focus was more on traditional Cajun boils with New Orleans spices. Fast food jobs hiring near me From the beginning, he wanted to introduce the combination of Vietnamese flavors to Cajun dishes starting with crawfish, crab, shrimp and turkey next and moving to crawfish pho and fried rice later.

Further, he says that it was his combination of dishes that caught the eye of the local press, thus making the term Viet-Cajun a common descriptor for the new fusion cuisine. Chicago soul food restaurants Nguyen moved to Houston in 1988 and draws on his prior years as a marketing executive working in food and beverage at casinos in Louisiana and Las Vegas to maintain a tight ship at his single location, leading a strong team of front and back-of-the-house staff preparing and serving some of the freshest food in town. Dallas soul food restaurants “We are one of the pioneers in the market of the Vietnamese community,” he says, adding that he thought it would be popular but did not expect the following it currently enjoys.

In his mind, Cajun cuisine and Vietnamese cuisine complement each other because of their ability to downplay each other’s stronger flavors while highlighting subtler tones. Seafood restaurants nearby For example, the rich butter of Vietnamese cooking counteracts some of the powdery spice of Cajun cooking. Chinese food restaurants nearby In order to retain the level of Cajun flavors that the local palate demands, however, the final combination needs to be 60% Cajun seasoning and 40% Vietnamese, he says.

Nguyen immerses his crawfish and other seafood in a homemade broth filled with a secret blend of seasonings before tossing the cooked critters in either a rich garlic butter sauce or his new “gingergrass” variation that lends a sweet and earthy flavor for those seeking the a less intense kick. Fast food restaurants in washington dc Elsewhere on the menu, crawfish adds Gulf flair to pho and fried rice.

Just up the street at Wild Cajun, owner Lee Ngo and his siblings, who immigrated from Vietnam with their parents in 1980, offer a familiar yet technically different experience. Fast food restaurants in australia The crawfish here is boiled in a signature Cajun spice, which allows the flavors to soak into the meat before the crawfish are tossed in a bath of garlicky, spice-infused butter. Best seafood restaurants in san antonio The recipe that Ngo uses now took more than two years of tinkering with flavors to perfect, and is currently his restaurant’s top seller.

Minson Ngo, owner of local franchise LA Crawfish, represents a younger generation of US-born Vietnamese-Americans who are following in the footsteps of their parents and, in his case, his aunts and uncles. Fast food restaurants Taking inspiration from his uncle Lee, who owns Wild Cajun, Ngo graduated from the University of Houston and worked in hotels before an opportunity to open a restaurant inside 99 Ranch Market became available. Food restaurants near me Ngo jumped at the chance to get into the business for himself, and LA Crawfish debuted in 2011.

The fusion, to him, just makes sense. Fast food restaurants near me Still, he acknowledges that not everyone is an immediate fan. List of fast food restaurants “When I first started doing crawfish even at Wild Cajun, we had some people say ‘Hey I’m from Louisiana I know what crawfish is,’ he says. Good food restaurants “Some of them didn’t really like the garlic butter style, preferring to have the crawfish seasoned on the inside. Best fast food restaurants I say it’s the best of both worlds – why can’t you have well-seasoned crawfish on the inside and sauce on the outside for double the flavor punch?”

Ngo also adds crawfish to cheesy crawfish rolls, a local favorite inspired by a dish at Thai Gourmet. Top 10 fast food restaurants Also on offer are crawfish empanadas, and the restaurant’s famous, “life-changing” (according to its fans) crawfish pho. Local fast food restaurants For this dish, a beef pho broth prepared with a base of beef bone, 5 star anise, cinnamon sticks and other traditional elements get a kick from Cajun seasoning and, it goes without saying, crawfish.

The fusion between Cajun and Vietnamese flavors is immensely popular in Houston, evidenced by the 50 bowls (on average) of pho sold each day at LA Crawfish and countless bags of butter-drenched crawfish ordered at Viet-Cajun restaurants across the city.

According to Ngo, the future is fusion, and over time the concept of a “pure” cuisine will be lost, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good food restaurants near me “I think it’s just natural as our cultures mix in the US and it becomes more of a melting pot that more cultures and the cuisines are going to mix and influence each other,” he says.

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