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From Tacos to Tikka Masala

Houston's 10 best classic food trucks.

Diaz got a job at the French Gourmet Bakery, where he took a significant pay decrease. He initially started off just icing the cakes that were ready and picking up what he could here and there, until the manager quit. Diaz then asked the owner to give him a shot. While the owner initially declined, he later changed his mind and gave Diaz the opportunity to manage.

"He said he would only show me how to make [the shop's offerings] once and if I didn't get it right, he would find someone else," recalls Diaz. While he got paid less than the previous manager, Diaz quickly proved his skills and was eventually well compensated for his work. Despite his position and situation, Diaz wanted more and so he left to pursue Italian baking.

He got a job at Mama Mandola's, which supplied several restaurants with baked goods of all kinds. It was here that Diaz learned even more about baking and further refined his skills. After some years here, the company closed and Diaz decided to continue filling the orders for roughly 25 of Mama Mandola's restaurant customers. Within the span of three months, Diaz earned enough money to buy a house or open his own bakery. He decided to take the chance and open the bakery.

"I had enough money to be comfortable and just settle on buying a house," says Diaz, "but I wanted something more. I took the money I saved up and opened the restaurant. However, when I first opened it, we were only a bakery." He hired some employees and continued to supply restaurants.

The origin of a full food menu for La Guadalupana started off with just Diaz cooking for his employees. "We would work here and I would cook everyone lunch, and people would stop in and ask us if we served food or just desserts," he says. "I told them we didn't serve food, but they were more than welcome to join us for lunch. It was here that I got the idea that maybe I should offer a full menu."

If not this, then what?

Diaz is committed to his restaurant and finds it hard to see himself doing anything else. "I can't imagine doing nothing or just working at a regular job," he says. "I consider myself blessed with what I have because I love it. Being able to do something I enjoy and inspire my employees to show them where hard work can lead to."

If not here, then where?

"I've actually had opportunities to visit Moscow for a food workers' exchange-type program," says Diaz. "I applied for it and was accepted, but when I was getting ready to leave, my daughter broke down and started crying. So I decided to stay for my family. I always saw myself in the U.S. to follow my dreams and succeed."

Read the rest of our interview with Trancito Diaz — including his plans for the future of La Guadalupana — at Eating...Our Words.
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On the Menu

Here, Eat This
A beginner's guide to German cuisine.

Katharine Shilcutt

Modern-day Texans may not see much German influence when they look around, but the indirect effects of decades of German settlement still linger in large pockets of the state.

The first waves of German immigration began in the 1830s ahead of the European Revolutions of 1848 that sent floods of Forty-Eighters — German, Austrian and other Central European political dissidents — to the United States. Over 180 years later, Germans are still the largest European ethnic group in Texas, and count as the third-largest national-origin group behind Hispanics. (British is first.)

We can trace many of these immigrants back to Johann Friedrich Ernst, a gardener from Oldenburg who became the father of the German settlers in Texas after obtaining a land grant for 4,000 acres in Austin County in 1831 — an area that would become known as the "nucleus of the German Belt" in Central Texas. Ernst wrote "America letters" to his countrymen describing the bounty of land, livestock, wild game and fish that made Texas "an earthly paradise."

And although those letters were more than a bit optimistic, Texans still view their state as an earthly paradise today — in no small part because of fine food and drink such as our beer, our barbecue and our chicken-fried steak. We have Germans to thank for all of that.

Bratwurst

If you like the link sausages in Central Texas-style barbecue, you'll probably love bratwurst and the many other styles of sausage found throughout Germany. At its most simple, a bratwurst is a sausage made from finely ground pork, beef or veal, but there are at least 40 different varieties around Germany — each made different by the blend of meats, herbs and spices and its individual preparation (grilled, fried, boiled, smoked, etc.). There's even a variety of bratwurst that's made with raw eggs and grilled over burning pinecones.

Sauerkraut and red cabbage

Sauerkraut is a wondrous food. It's full of vitamins, keeps your digestive system running smoothly thanks to plenty of lactobacilli and it can be preserved for long periods of time (e.g., during German winters). No wonder the fermented cabbage came to be such a staple in the German diet, just as kimchi is to Koreans. There's even research to suggest that sauerkraut contains cancer-fighting agents. In case you've only ever had sauerkraut or its prettier, more perfumed cousin — red cabbage, stewed down with cinnamon, cloves and allspice — that comes from a jar, treat yourself to the homemade stuff at restaurants like Charivari. There, chef Johann Schuster cooks the cabbage down into a wonderfully balanced sweet-and-sour dish that's both creamy and tangy at the same time.

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