A few months ago, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Asians were the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in 2012. After reading the report, I understood why I noticed an increase in the number of Asians in our city. Honestly, I thought it had more to do with our absence of living in the States because when you’re one in about 20 Koreans living in the country of Cyprus, diversity becomes a relative term.
Noticing an increase in Asian diversity becomes more apparent when you’re in the state of Texas (because everything always seem bigger in Texas). That’s what happened when we visited the new Chinatown in Houston. While the name, new Chinatown of Houston, is a contested term for some Houstonians (as there’s already an “old” Chinatown in Houston’s east downtown area), it’s quite an expansive location in the southwest part of Houston.
There’s no pagoda awning hanging over Bellaire’s modern shopping centers like you’d see in many other Chinatowns in the U.S., but it has got plenty of Asian cuisine varieties to please any Asian cuisine inspired foodie. At least that’s what happened when we visited Houston’s new Chinatown area.
Tofu Village’s menu has a plethora of 순두부찌개 (soondubu jigae, spicy hot tofu soups), very much part of Korean cuisine.
(Photo Above: Tofu Village’s signature seafood 순두부찌개 (soondubu jigae, tofu soup)
We tried their Korean BBQ, one of which was 불고기 (bulgogi), but it tasted a little bit like they used premade bbq sauce that you could buy at Super H Mart. Nevertheless, our kids still loved every morsel of bulgogi.
(Photo Above: Tofu Village’s 불고기 (bulbogi, Korean BBQ) and 반찬 (banchan, Korean side dishes))
When you are close to completing your meal, the server will bring your leftover rice that’s now been crusted/hardened into the dolsot pot, aka “stone bowl.” He/she will then pour hot water into the stone bowl, which then become 누룽지 (nu rung ji). Mmmm…it’s like topping off with another dish. It’s sooo good and nostalgic because I fondly remember when my grandmother used to make it after dinner.
I ate 떡만두국 (dduk mandu guk, rice cake soup with dumplings), one of my all-time favorite Korean dishes, especially because that was the first Korean dish my mom taught me to make.
We usually hit up our usual favorites in Houston, like Houston’s Korea town nearby Memorial City area and Gessener Road; but on our last visit to Houston, we wanted to expand our food pallete and try out hand at Malaysian cuisine. Friends of a friend, thanks to Facebook, recommended Banana Leaf. If I took the time to look up the location, who would have guessed that Banana Leaf was a few doors down from Tofu Village?
Like Tofu Village, there’s quite a wait to get seated, and that’s always a good sign at a sit down restaurant. Once we were seated, we ordered several dishes.
Chicken Satay Appetizer Singapore Noodles with Beef
Chicken Fried Rice Mango Chicken
I thoroughly enjoyed every dish, except for the Mango Chicken dish. I don’t know what made me think this dish was going to be deep-fried and smothered in a spicy mango habañero-like sauce. It was nothing of the sort but rather a non-deep fried dish. I should have known to always let Prof choose the dishes because he knows how to to pick the good ones.
After dinner our kids wanted to try some dessert, so we walked around and found Gelato Cup. I know what you’re thinking, “Gelato, Betty? Really?” Yes, ladies and gents, tis’ true. Not only does the new Chinatown in Houston offer Asian cuisine, but Italian as well.
There’s your usual two scoop minimum served with a piece of waffle cone, either as a garnish or for your eating pleasure. Of course, this gelato shop offers flavors, such as black sesame and Durian, that you won’t usually find at an Italian gelato shop. Just remember to bring cash, if you plan on buying less than the minimum credit charge amount.
You can also order a flavorful iced drink with boba or lychee juice bubbles. This time around we ordered a melon iced drink with lychee juice balls. I wouldn’t recommend drinking this in -20° weather in the Midwest, but for 46° F weather in Houston, it’s perfect.
Next time, who knows what we’ll try? Perhaps, we’ll order an ice cream burrito. Now that’s what I call fusion, when you mix Mexican-American, Asian, and Italian into one handy little wrapper. (By the way, did you know that burritos did not originate from Mexico?)
Fit Japanese Store
Before dinner, I saw a bright white light over yonder, on the other side of Dun Huang Plaza. From the outside, it looked like a kids’ play zone. It’s bright on the inside, has pretty colors like a rainbow, and has a store sign called Fit. You’d think it was a kid play zone, too? Right?
I proposed the idea to walk over and check it out, and the kids looked intrigued enough to make the trek. We walked up a flight of stairs and saw this:
“Oh, how cute! It’s a little Japanese Ikea store!”
Nope. I think the best description of Fit Japanese Store comes from Michelle H. on Yelp who said, “(It’s) kind of like a dollar store with pricier Japanese items-made in China?” Those were my exact sentiments when I looked on the back of the label of several items for sale. Others commented that the new Chinatown should really be called Asian town because of the variety of Asian cuisines and shops in Dun Huang Plaza.
(Photo Above: Stickers galore!)
(Photo Above: They even sell stuff for guys!)
I don’t normally see orgami paper in our hometown (and for such a deal at $3-$4), so I grabbed a set. Piano Man and Linus saw some specialty origami paper (Bob the Builder, which only showed you how to make a house that you could make in four steps, and a dinosaur set, which was pretty complicated for an elementary school student). We took home some paper, and now I think we’ve made some pretty interesting origami art to share sometime down the road.
(Photo Above: If you’re not interested in making origami on your own, you can always buy a ready-made gift for $38.00.)
How to Avoid Non-Populated Restaurants and Shops in New Chinatown
While many restaurants and shops were packed with customers and visitors, there were a few restaurants and stores that sat empty. I have only one sound piece of advice for any traveler getting to know a city. If you see a restaurant with little to no customers, then I’d probably steer clear of that place.
(Photo Above: Busy dinner service at Tofu Village, August 2013. It’s definitely a good sign that business is doing well.)
There is so much to see in the new Chinatown area of Houston. We’ll definitely be back to check out more restaurants and shops in the future. Have you checked out the new Chinatown area in Bellaire? What other restaurants and shops would you recommend us visiting next?