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Southern-Fried Asian to Go

Exploring Houston's "you buy, we fry" seafood joints

I asked John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, if he knew anything about the history of these places and why they were assumed to be Southern. "Anything that's vaguely odd has got to be an old Southern tradition -- especially if it's fried," he quipped. Otherwise, he knew as little as I did.

It appears that the history of this retail fish-frying tradition has yet to be written.


You buy, and Linda and Patrick Ong will fry you up 
succulent fish, shrimp and oysters.
Troy Fields
You buy, and Linda and Patrick Ong will fry you up succulent fish, shrimp and oysters.

Location Info

Map

J&J Seafood Market

3825 Wood Valley
Houston, TX 77025

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Braeswood

Details

J&J Seafood Market: Seafood platter $6.99
Nine-shrimp dinner $6.49
Fish sandwich and fries $3.29
Gumbo $3.99

AZ Seafood: Catfish dinner $3.99
Ten-oyster dinner $6.99
Ten-shrimp dinner $5.99
Side of gumbo $1.99

J&J Seafood Market: 3825 Wood Valley Drive, 713-661-6102. AZ Seafood: 5851 Scott, 713-741-1026.

An elderly black woman and her daughter come into J&J Seafood one morning and look over the menu. But the older woman isn't interested in platters or combos with shrimp, oysters and fries.

"I want that catfish right there," she tells the proprietress, Linda Ong, pointing to a large fish.

The catfish is selling for $3.29 a pound. The store charges an additional 70 cents a pound to clean and fry the whole fish. Ong throws the two-pound-plus fish on the scale. "$11.29, cleaned and fried," she says. This is, of course, the original version of "you buy, we fry" seafood. And if you're willing to buy a whole fish, the concept becomes a lot more interesting.

Emboldened by the elderly woman, I examine the best-looking fish in the seafood case. "I want one of these red snapper, fried," I tell Ong. The gleaming fresh fish is going for $5.19 a pound. She flips mine, which weighs a little less than a pound and a half, on the scale. "$8.29," she says. With it, I order a side of the only Asian item on the menu, shrimp fried rice.

When I get home, I try the rice, which contains lots of tiny shrimp, cubed carrots, green peas and a touch of seasoning. It's tasty enough, but I think I'll stick with fries and hush puppies next time. The fried red snapper is awesome. My whole fish has yielded four generous pieces. I smear a slice of bread with tartar sauce and put a fried fillet on it. Then I slice a vine-ripened tomato and put it on top of the fish, salt it lightly and take a bite. Now this is the way to eat "you buy, we fry" seafood, I muse, as my eyes roll back into my head.

Attracted by my moans of ecstasy, a houseguest grabs the sandwich away from me and samples it. Although she has other plans for lunch, she finds my open-faced fried redfish and ripe tomato poor boy so spectacular that she wolfs the rest of it down.

Luckily, there are lots more fish fillets and ripe tomatoes.

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