War, natural disaster and financial misfortunes may have been the best things to ever happen to Houston – and Houstonians’ appetites

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Videos by Rare

Videos by Rare

Every Houstonian knows high season for crawfish spans early March through late June.

If you’ve been lucky enough to enjoy mudbugs around town this year, chances are you’ve had them Houston style, which comes spicy with a lot of Vietnamese influence.

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Prepared in “a ton of butter, a ton of garlic” and “caramelized sugar around it,” mixed with “all the spices,” like turmeric, lime and cayenne pepper, these dishes could mean the Vietnam War may have been one of the best things to happen to Houston.

Eater’s “Cooking in America” Host Sheldon Simeon recently met with the owner of Cajun Kitchen, discussing the first wave of immigrants who made their way to Texas during the 1970s.

“With the fall of Saigon, the communists were moving [in], and everyone [was looking to get out] to other countries,” John Nguyen said over lunch with Simeon, wearing gloves to protect his hands from the spicy food.

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“Once the communists took over, right after the fall, it got harder for people to leave because, if you got caught, then you’d end up in a prison camp.”

Speaking more on the history of his family’s lineage, Nguyen continued:

The Vietnamese people are really appreciative. They got a lot of help, and I think that made them more open to embrace the American culture and learn about […] American food. […] (At Cajun Kitchen), we think, “what do we like to eat that’s American?”[…] and let’s see if it works for our Vietnamese food.

Hurricane Katrina brought another wave of Vietnamese influence to Houston:

I heard 9,000 Vietnamese people moved from New Orleans to Houston because of Katrina. My family, when they left Vietnam, came to Louisiana – fisherman, too – so they would go catch some of the stuff like we’re eating right now.  They lived in Louisiana; they loved it there.  With Katrina happening, they had to move here because their houses got flooded.

And, despite nationwide financial turmoil, Houston thrived still during the 2008 and 2009 recession.

“A lot of people from Orange County, Calif., Vietnamese people moved to Houston,” Nguyen said further. “Jobs weren’t plenty over there, property values were too high.  A lot of them had really good Vietnamese restaurants, so we’ve had these two waves of Vietnamese people from other cities coming in with good ideas.”

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Resilient and more flavorful than ever, Houstonians’ appetites are clearly the winners in international and nationwide moments of strife.

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