CELEBRATING LUNAR NEW YEAR IN HOUSTON'S CHINATOWN
Nimra Haroon, Communications Intern
Lunar New Year, often referred to as Chinese New Year or Tết, is one of the most important festivals celebrated by over a billion people in the world. While Lunar New Year falls on January 28 this year, it is celebrated between mid-January to late February, lasts multiple days, and celebrates the start of a new year and the spring. Every year is marked by an animal, according to zodiac. Food, fireworks, dragon dances, lanterns, and red envelopes are just a portion of the festivities. During this time period, individuals spend time with family, feast, clean their houses, bestow gifts, play games, return debts, and pray for good fortune in the coming year.
The holiday is celebrated by many communities around the world, Asian and others. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, in addition to many western countries in the Americas and Europe, observe the holiday. In the United States, Lunar New Year is a school holiday for those in San Francisco and New York City. Last year, Houston Arts Alliance’s Folklife & Traditional Arts program celebrated it with an elaborate installation at the then-new MATCH facility.
There are also similar celebrations across other Asian cultures that distinguish themselves from this Lunar New Year. Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian Lunar New Year, and Losar, the Tibetan New Year are sometimes celebrated simultaneously with the Chinese New Year, and other times not. Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, happens at different times of the year, following the Gregorian calendar year. The Nanakshahi Sikh solar calendar begins March 14. The Nepalese Nepal Sambat, Myanmar’s Thingyan, Songkran (Thai), Chaul Chnam Thmey (Cambodian), Aluth Avurudu (Sri Lankan), Puthandu (Tamil) and Ugadi (Telegu) New Year’s Days are observed in April.
Japan observed the Chinese Lunar New Year until the Meiji Restoration in the 1870s, when Japan switched from its lunisolar calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Traditional lunar holidays were mapped onto the western calendar by date, regardless of its occurrence in the moon cycle. Japan’s Oshogatsu, or New Year, is celebrated on January 1.
Texas is home to the United States’ third largest Asian American and Pacific Islander population and there is no shortage of cultural traditions in Houston. Hundreds of Asian restaurants, teahouses, shops, places of worship, and retail outlets dot the strip malls up and down Bellaire Boulevard, Houston’s Chinatown neighborhood. While Houston’s old Chinatown is now the area referred to as East Downtown, or Eado, Houston’s current Chinatown is roughly bounded between Westpark Tollway to the north, Fondren Road on the east, Beechnut Street on the south, and Highway 6 on the west. Different parts of the area spill into the Sharpstown, International, and Westchase management districts. Street signs along Bellaire from South Gessner to Beltway 8 are displayed in English and Mandarin Chinese, but cross the Beltway and the signs change to Vietnamese. The Vietnamese community renamed Bellaire Boulevard to Saigon Boulevard.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, and Houston is a testament to this demographic shift. Multiple cultures – not just Chinese – have made Chinatown and Southwest Houston home, from Korean, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Thai, Filipino, Pakistani, Taiwanese, Indian, Mongolian, Bengali, Sri Lankan, Japanese and Tibetan. Asian communities are spread throughout Houston, well outside of Chinatown (a term which is often disputed by the city’s large Vietnamese community and others for its lack of inclusion). There is a heavy Korean population in Spring Branch, and family-ran Vietnamese establishments dot Milam in Midtown.
While the area is geographically and culturally extensive, it would take one years to tackle all of Chinatown. In celebration of the many Asian communities’ traditions, below are some culinary and cultural destinations to visit in diverse Southwest Houston. The endless options of egg tarts, dumplings, phở, sushi, noodles, Sichuan cuisine, KBBQ, dim sum, halo-halo, tapioca, and more make it near impossible to create a list of favorites, but below is a small fraction of delectable eateries accompanied by cultural and faith destinations.
KEEP EXPLORING CHINATOWN:
Quan Yin Vegetarian Restaurant
10804 Bellaire Boulevard E, Houston, TX 77072
This casual takeout spot has eggless eggrolls and popular Asian dishes with meat substitutes, cooking with faux chicken, beef and fish, frequently serving the Buddhist community.
11215 Bellaire Boulevard D, Houston, TX 77072
Located at the west wing of the Hong Kong City Mall, Saturday mornings are for dim sum at this notable Chinese restaurant.
9889 Bellaire Boulevard #311, Houston, TX 77036 and 9896 Bellaire Boulevard, Houston, TX 77036
Malaysian cuisine is the staple at both locations, which just so happen to be conveniently across the street from each other. Try the roti canai.
Jang Guem Tofu & BBQ House
9896 Bellaire Boulevard J, Houston, TX 77036
Korean barbecue accompanied with lots of banchan is the star here, but so is the plethora of vegetarian options, with plenty of tofu dishes, like sundubu, or soon tofu.
10600 Bellaire Boulevard, Houston, TX 77072
Have an authentic Japanese experience at this joint, where the chef has served sashimi and crafted his Americanized hand rolls for over 30 years. The fish in freshly flown in every week.
Nguyen Ngo French Cafe
11210 Bellaire Boulevard, Suite 136, Houston, TX 77072
This cash-only family joint is argued to have the best bánh mì in Houston, with housemade mayo and French imported pâté.
TEAHOUSES AND BAKERIES
9198 Bellaire Boulevard, Houston, Texas, 77036
A classic staple having first opened in Hong Kong City Mall in 2000, The Teahouse serves up delicious milk teas and tapioca at multiple locations around Houston.
Boba Zone by Long Coffee
10611 Bellaire Boulevard, Houston, TX 77072
This joint has been serving up snacks, smoothies, coffee, and a plethora of boba drinks for over ten years.
10613 Bellaire Boulevard A150, Houston, TX 77072
Having opened in 2016, this newer teahouse has risen to be one of the most popular, offering trendy items, like Milk Tea Tà Bí Lú (pictured), or combination milk tea.
Six Ping Bakery
9384 Bellaire Boulevard, Houston, TX 77036
Find sweet pastries, savory buns and Super Kawaii breads, usually all less for $2 at one of the four locations in Chinatown.
6918 Wilcrest Drive # A, Houston, TX 77072
Find traditional Chinese baked goods here, like lightly sweetened and creamy egg custard tarts, which locals often buy by the dozen.
9889 Bellaire Boulevard #112a, Houston, TX 77036
Serving nu ice, a Taiwanese classic, Nu offers snacks, meals, and the popular ribbon ice concoction, taking ten hours of preparation.
Houston’s Old Chinatown still has some existing places, spotted along St. Emmanuel, Hutchins, and surrounding streets with faded green Chinese pagodas, gold columns, and intricate Chinese characters. Cantonese Chinese immigrants relocated to the Third Ward outside of downtown in the 1930s, in search of cheaper land. Vietnamese and other Asian communities joined them, and the area was vibrantly known as Chinatown until the expansion of Southwest Houston and the new Chinatown in the 1990s and the introduction of EaDo in 2009.
A Vietnamese classic and popular go-to after Rockets games, this restaurant has been going strong since 1982, when Mama La fled her first establishment in Viet Long, Vietnam. Find more locations in Chinatown.
Formerly known as Pho Huynh, this family-run restaurant has been serving traditional Vietnamese food for over fifteen years.
Kim Hung Market
One of the remaining Asian grocery stores, Kim Hung sits at the intersection of St. Emmanuel and Dallas Streets, serving the EaDo community.
Hong Kong City Mall
11205 Bellaire Boulevard, Houston, TX 77072
Housing Hong Kong Food Market and over twenty shops, restaurants, cafes, stalls, and services, this mall has been serving Asian communities in Houston since 1999.
Dozens of budgeted jewelry, clothing, perfume, shoes, electronics, wholesale, cosmetic and miscellaneous shops are a sight worth seeing in this bargain shopping district.
Zhong Shan Chinese School
10600 Turtlewood Court, Houston, TX 77072
Housed within the Teo Chew Temple, the school offers Mandarin Chinese classes at all levels to the community, including native English speakers and business professionals.
Chinese Community Center
9800 Town Park, Houston, TX 77036
This center offers citizenship classes, financial counseling workshops, homebuyer education, youth education, childcare, Asian heritage tours and more.
Asian Heritage Tours
Sample aspects of the Chinese culture through tours provided by the Chinese Community Center on tai chi, dim sum, calligraphy, tea tasting and herbalogy, and shopping.
Christ Incarnate Word Catholic Church
8503 S Kirkwood Road, Houston, TX 77099
A communal place for many Vietnamese Catholics in Houston, this church was officially named a parish of the Galveston-Houston Diocese in 1998.
Vietnamese Buddhist Center
10002 Synott Road, Sugar Land, TX 77498
A beautiful sight outside of Chinatown, the pagodas are photo worthy. The temple caters to one of the largest Vietnamese Buddhist communities in the United States.
Jade Buddha Temple
6969 Westbranch Drive, Houston, TX 77072
Built in 1989 on two and a half acres, the temple serves as a Buddhist study and research center, in addition to its spiritual offerings to the community.
Teo Chew Temple
10599 Turtlewood Ct, Houston, TX 77072
Situated across Brays Bayou, this postcard worthy Taoist and Buddhist temple houses a Mandarin school, hosts celebrations, and releases a strong fragrance of incense as you approach the building.
Dunham Bible Museum
7502 Fondren Drive, Houston, TX 77074
Located outside of Chinatown on Houston Baptist University’s campus, the museum houses a rare collection of American Bibles.