Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Houston's diversity - food for thought

Last week, many of you commented about ethnic foods that are not well-represented in Houston.

Today, the NYT has an interactive graphic showing the number of foreign-born immigrants in every American county. It helps explain why Houston restaurants have a lot of some cuisines, but not others.

Some facts are obvious: Houston has more Vietnamese immigrants than Russians. But other details are fascinating:

•Houston has more Vietnamese-born residents (more than 44,000) than anywhere outside of California. But three California counties (Los Angeles, Orange County, and Santa Clara) have more.

•Houston has far fewer Russian-born immigrants (2,876) than well over a dozen counties around the country. That may explain why we have no Russian restaurants.

•But, Houston has fewer Japanese-born immigrants (2,665) than Russians. Yet we have 140 sushi restaurants.

•Houston had fewer Chinese-born immigrants in 2000 (16,115) than California, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Seattle.

•Compared to some areas of the country, Houston does not get many immigrants from the entire continent of Africa (21,574). The Northeast, California, and even one county in Minnesota (!?) get more. But Chicago has fewer.

•Only two cities in the U.S. -- Los Angeles and Chicago -- have more Mexican-born residents than Houston.

Houston beats Dallas and every other Texas city in every immigrant group -- with one exception: Dallas has slightly more Koreans.

Conclusions and Questions

This data suggests that Houston is the most immigrant-diverse American city outside of New York and California. (Chicago has as many immigrants, but is a much larger city.)


-If we have more Russian-born immigrants than Japanese, why do we have 140 Japanese restaurants and not a single Russian one? Who is cooking all of Houston's "Japanese" food?

-If we have more African-born residents than Chinese, why do we have so few African restaurants and so many good Chinese restaurants?

-Does it make sense to refer to that long stretch of Bellaire as "Chinatown"? We have far more Vietnamese immigrants than Chinese. I suspect our Chinatown may be much more of a Chinese/Vietnamese hybrid.


Dr. Ricky said...

Oh, you know how to fire up a hotbed topic, don't you? :)

As I noted before, most of the Japanese restaurants in town focus on sushi - not the diversity of true Japanese cuisine. In fact, ramen houses far outnumber sushi places in Japan. Truth is, most of the sushi restaurants in town are owned and run by ethnic Chinese. And most of the Chinese restaurants in town employ Mexican cooks. But yes, I do think that Houston's Chinatown is more like Vietnam-town, but the dominant Ango-American view lumps all slanty eyed folks under one rubric.

Little Wok said...

i just had a good chuckle over the latter of Dr. Ricky's comment. There's great truth in that last comment. Of course me being a fellow slanty eyed i can say it without bias. My other asian friend corrected me by saying almond shaped eyes. All big cities have a "chinatown" yet doesn't necessarily mean Chinese dominant. I think our Bellaire stretch definitely is a Fusion between Chinese and Vietnamese. Most menus boast both translations.

Anonymous said...

There's also a healthy amount of ethnic Chinese who are from Vietnam.

HoustonWok said...

As I wrote a post about your blog and have to second Dr. Ricky, you sure know how to spark a great topic. I think when it comes to food, there is already a preconceived notion of whats good and whats not. For example, when it comes to asian oriented food, you think noodles, fried rice and or if you are completely out of the loop, you think of lettuce wraps because of PF.Changs right?
However, there is not a commercial identity when it comes to African food, or maybe even Russian food because 1. There isn't enough exposure, here in Houston 2. Fear of the unknown so what does that leave you with? Dominance among the popular.

Anonymous said...

Couple notes:

- There is a Russian restaurant in town called Russian Bear.. on Hwy 6 I believe.

- There are two Nigerian restaurants in town. I've been to Suya Hut, off of 59.

anonymouseater said...

Shion - The Russian Bear is closed. Long live the Russian Bear. But we do have several Nigerian restaurants, including Genesis and Finger Licking Bukateria.

Dr. Ricky - Agreed. Most of those sushi restaruants really have little to do with Japanese food.

HoustonWok - Good thoughts. There are two ways for the food of another culture to get popular here. One is to have a critical mass of immigrants who eat it. The second is a fad or clever marketing. Remember the Mongolian barbecue craze of th late 80s? We don't have that many Mongolian immigrants here, but we had quite a few "Mongolian" restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Well, sushi is a popular cuisine, and I can count on one hand the number of Japanese-owned Japanese restaurants in Houston.

Dr. Demeter said...

"so many good Chinese restaurants"

Where??? Seriously, please tell me!!! We live inside the loop and cannot find any that rise above mediocre at best. Are the only good ones in Asiatown, and, if so, which ones are they? We moved here a year and a half ago and nothing yet can fill the void of amazing Chinese food we used to be able to find in Atlanta.

anonymouseater said...

Dr. Demeter

Almost all the good ones are in Asiatown. Some are Chinese/Vietnamese fusion. These are my favorites:

-Fung's Kitchen
-Sichuan Cuisine
-Sinh Sinh

For dumplings and noodles, my favorites are:

-San Dong Noodles (aka Santong Snacks)
-Fu Fu Cafe