I thought that in celebration of the Chinese New Year, I would take you on a little trip through Houston’s New Chinatown. It would probably more accurate to describe it as Little Asia, since you will find many nationalities here. Alright, let us begin.
I will begin my journey on the corner of Beechnut and the Beltway 8. You will find quite a few new commercial developments along the Beltway, but this location is pretty well developed. I should start you off with two phrases which mean thank you: gom ahn (Vietnamese) and shay-shay(Chinese). The sternest face will break into a smile with this phrase. Start your trip in the Vietnamese market called Viet Hoa. You will find good prices on your standard fruit and vegetables, but look into the exotics. My son is not afraid to ask another shopper what something is, and no one has ever turned down his request. One warning- do not buy an entire jack fruit unless you have had one before. I ended up eating most of one alone, just because it was difficult for the kids to eat. Check out the seafood section. Live frogs anyone? In the same shopping center, you will find two other stores that I would recommend: Tea Cup Cafe for bubble tea, and Kho Bo Houston for jerky and “candy”. My son likes the smoothies at the Tea Cup, but my daughter will drink the bubble teas with me. They also have good light lunch/snack type food here. At Kho Bo, they will happily explain what the candy can be used for, and they do give out samples. My son will go after the cuttle fish jerky, while I go after some preserved fruits. My one year old girl just goes up and down the aisles saying whoa! Check out the other shops too. There are some nice finds.
Alright, we can move down the Beltway 8 a little outside of the main Chinatown area for our next stop. You will have to go down West Airport to Jebbia Lane to find the Chung Mei Temple. This is a Buddhist Temple that also houses a museum, gift shop, library, meditation room, and a small cafe. The grounds also have a garden of Chinese sculpture. The main shrine is beautiful. On Sundays, they have classes to learn Chinese, calligraphy, and kendo. Take a look at the kendo. My son is a fencer, and he wants to do that.
Move on over to Wilcrest heading north. We are going to go back up to the main Chinatown area. When you get to Bellaire turn left. When you come to Boone road, pull into the parking lot for Lee’s Sandwich Shop. This is my favorite place for a Vietnamese sandwich. If you do not like spicy, be sure to tell them no jalepenos on it. The store offers various treats, so look around. There is a style of Vietnamese twinkie made fresh at the front door. It is cornbread with a custard filling. Take a look at the shops in this strip. I really want to go to the Chinese Herbalist. I think that would be an adventure. If you go across the street, you can explore more shops and the Hong Kong Market.
Drive along Bellaire here, and you will find a monument to the fallen soldiers in the Vietnam War. There are many shops to see. If it is getting later, why not try a restaurant. I love Chinese food, and it abounds here, but are you familiar with Vietnamese fare? Go to any place with the word “pho” written on it. I was told that this word is pronounced “fah”. If you are a soup lover like me, this will be the meal for you. There are other dishes available, but I just love this one.
Well, that is a quick introductory tour, which can be done in less than a day. Vacation with your kids here for the day to let them experience something new. If you go down Harwin towards downtown you will pass the Chines Cultural Center, but there are some other shops and restaurants at the intersection with Gessner. I like go into the Parisian Bakery here for my bread rolls. The Vietnamese learned to bake from the French, so you can get some good bread at a good price.