By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
Suya, another specialty of the region, is available across the parking lot from Finger Licking Bukateria at the halal meat market, which also sells its own fufu. But if you prefer to eat your suya sitting down, head to Suya Hut (11611 W. Airport Blvd., 281-265-1411) in Stafford. Similar to shish kebab, suya is prepared with chicken, beef or fish and a mixture of spices that includes garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper and ground peanuts. Those craving more straightforward Ghanaian food, however, can get their fix at Ghana House (14109 S. Main, 713-729-5000), where roasted goat will appeal to fans of a much more Texan item: cabrito.
"You cannot be in Houston with mind in Bosnia," exhorts Brane Poledica, manager at the Four Seasons, who moved here from Sarajevo in 1996. At that time, the country had recently declared independence from Yugoslavia; Poledica had fought in the civil war for four years before decamping to nearby Slovenia as a refugee.
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"We had a right to be there, but no work permit," Poledica says. And because the war had erupted and cut short his education — he was in school studying physics, his wife studying chemistry — he didn't have the skills or the language to ensure that he'd find work in the United States, where he sought asylum and settled. He was hired as a busboy at Neiman Marcus and began working his way up the ladder.
"I was stubborn enough to learn English quickly," he says. And before long, Poledica had earned an associate's degree from Houston Community College in hotel management, eventually landing his current job.
During this time, Poledica has become acclimated to Houston's climate — "It's so hot here!" was his first reaction straight off the plane from New York City that mid-July — as well as our culture. He and his wife still occasionally make traditional food for the holidays, but he says it's more likely to find guacamole and pico de gallo at his dinner table than pljeskavice.
Bosnian food, he explains, is a mixture of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Western European influences, much the same way Houston cuisine is an amalgamation of Mexican, Cajun, German, West African, Vietnamese and any number of other cultures that have worked their way to the Bayou City across the years.
Poledica likes Cafe Pita + (10890 Westheimer, 713-953-7237), but — as he explains it — only for quick, fast meals. Dishes like pljeskavice and cevap are fast food to most Bosnians. Comfort food, yes, but fast food nonetheless. He prefers to eat at Tony's or Mark's when he and his wife want a night out. The high-end food and atmosphere — and even the price point — are much more similar to nice restaurants in Bosnia. He chuckles as he points out, "Many things from that part of the world are very cosmopolitan. Where I lived was only two-hour plane flight to Paris, after all."
To make traditional food at home, Poledica and his wife have markets like Phoenicia and Balkan Market (10928 Westheimer, 713-953-7237), but he says it's just as easy to buy goat cheese that's every bit as good as Bosnian cheese from the Houston Dairymaids, just as easy to make burek that tastes as good as that from Sarajevo with the Texan grass-fed beef that he buys at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.
Greek, Italian, French, Spanish and even German to a lesser extent are all fairly easy cuisines to locate in Houston. But Belgian and British have considerably fewer establishments to choose from.
As Catherine Duwez, the Belgian-born proprietress of The Broken Spoke (1809 Washington, 713-863-7029), is quick to point out, Belgian cuisine shouldn't be confused with French cuisine. Although they're in the same area of the world, Belgian cuisine is as infatuated with beer as the French are with wine. Beer is used in much the same way as wine: You cook with it, then drink it along with your meal. And waffles aren't for breakfast; they're a street food just like crepes. You can get both crepes and beer — and plenty of it — at The Broken Spoke, or just a simple combination of moules frites that will have you longing to visit Bruges.
British food similarly gets a misunderstood rap sometimes. It's not all fish and chips, after all, as Richard Gleave puts it. "If you're gonna do British food, then for me, you've got to expand beyond fish and chips and go get some Welsh rarebit on the menu," he says. "Or Yorkshire pudding. Black pudding. Lancashire Hotpot. Otherwise it'd be like me being in England and taking McDonald's as a good representation of American food."
Gleave, who moved to Houston from Manchester nearly ten years ago, admits that his expectations weren't very high at first: "Having got here and seen the heavy Mexican-Southern-barbecue influences, chances of finding a decent steak and kidney pudding or toad-in-the-hole sort of dissipated a little." And, he adds with bemusement, "for a state that loves its meat, where's the lamb?"
But it turns out that finding places that offered British food wasn't terribly difficult, he recalls. "Once people realized I was English, they immediately pointed me in the right direction," which ended up being to pubs like The Richmond Arms (5920 Richmond, 713-784-7722), where Gleave is now pleased to be able to catch Premier League soccer (a.k.a. football) on the televisions with a pint of Boddingtons and think of England.