“Close minded, prejudicial, quick to make assumptions about places different than where we grew up” — these are stereotypes globetrotting host Anthony Bourdain ascribes to himself in the lead-in to Sunday night’s episode of the CNN travelogue Parts Unknown. “I’m talking about me and people like me who are way too comfortable thinking of Texas as a big space filled with intolerant and variably right-wing white people waddling between the fast-food outlet and the gun store.” Of course, what Bourdain finds in this Houston, Texas, episode is something far more culturally rich, diverse, and welcoming than might be preconceived.
Despite its associations with oil, shipping, NASA, and football, Bourdain discovers the Houston metro area is home to African-American, immigrant, and refugee communities. Some 200,000 immigrants from India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh live in the city, as Bourdain learns during a visit to Little India. At a grocery store, Bourdain witnesses an impromptu dance and eating contest, and joins a local disc jockey at a popular Indian-Pakistani eatery Himalaya Restaurant.
Next, Bourdain crashes a local quinceañera before eating school lunch at Lee High School (now Wisdom High School), lead by principal Jonathan N. Trinh, who came to the U.S. as a refugee and now supports a student body that hails from some 70 different countries. (That diversity is reflected in a backyard family dinner at Trinh’s house, where Bourdain’s served “a very mixed-up meal” of tamales, crawdads, ceviche, and Vietnamese soup.) Later, the host feasts on barbecue and gets a crash course in Houston’s “slab” car culture with local hip-hop hero Slim Thug.
It’s not all low riding on this trip. Viewers get to follow Bourdain from a Vietnamese shrimp boat to a local restaurant and corner store, from a refugee-run urban garden to a cricket match. Altogether, the trip proves eye-opening for Bourdain, who seems to have expected a few stories of inhospitable Texans from the area’s immigrants. In contrast, his acquaintances are extremely positive about their experiences. Here, now, are the 21 best lines from Bourdain’s enlightening Houston excursion.
1. On the enormous guest list for a quinceañera: “Who gets invited to these things? I mean, this is a lot of people. I don’t have this many friends.”
2. On the cost of a quinceañera: “Oh, my god. I was really happy about having a girl, but it’s expensive.”
3. On the right of passage for Mexican-American boys: “What do boys get?” The owner of Acapulco Ballroom, Elizabeth Ortuno, replies: “A soccer ball.”
4. Recounting the crash of the Houston oil industry and its impact on the community: “The resulting economic downturn and lower cost of living made Houston, however improbably it might seem to you, Yankee trash, much more welcoming to people with less means.
5. On the abysmal school lunch of chicken sandwich and french fries, fruit salad, milk: “Welcome to America, kids.”
6. When a student says his life plan is to play soccer: “Soccer is not a plan, my friend.”
7. On the backyard cookout at the home of Lee High School’s principal: “Ain’t nothing more Amur’ican than Viet Bayou-style crawdads steamed with Sriracha, orange juice, and beer. And gotta have corn of course, and potatoes with sausage and beer — did I mention beer?”
8. On the moonshine in a mason jar at Burns Original BBQ: “Wow I can drink a lot of that.”
9. On the spread from Burns BBQ: “A torpedo sized baked potato filled with cheddar cheese, chopped barbecued beef, and homemade link sausage, slow cooked pork ribs, big-ass beef ribs, and brisket.”
10. On the baked potato in particular: “That thing is, like, gigantic. My mother always said, ‘Never eat anything bigger than your head,’ and that’s about the size of a human head.”
11. After a Congolese woman lists three languages she knows: “So don’t feel too bad, most Americans struggle with one.”
12. On his predictions for the future of Houston: “A lot of first generation and second generation African babies gonna happen here. Houston’s going to look real different. You’ll hear Lingala at the 7-11 no problem, Swahili.”
13. On the special dishes served at cricket matches: “Take me out to the ballgame, man. Though the smell wafting from behind the bleachers is not hot dogs or popcorn or roasting peanuts. It’s a hell of a lot better, actually.”
14. On his opinion of cricket: “I do like a sport where you can aim at somebody’s crotch, though. I think that’s sort of awesome.”
15. ...but he’s not exactly clear on the rules of the sport: “I’m not going to even try to explain the sport of cricket to you. There’s a ball and there’s bats. And I think you run to like, base.”
16. On why cricket failed to catch on in the U.S.: “So this is why it didn’t happen in America. We like winners in America. We like to know who’s winning at all times.”
17. On baseball: “Even to us it’s a slow game. It’s really all about the snacks with baseball.” League president of the Houston Indian Cricket Club, Kuldeep Patel, replies: Hot dogs. Bourdain replies: “They’re shitty hot dogs, too. The beer is even worse.”
18. Contrasting the menu for cricket versus baseball: “Now for a hot dog. Oh no, right. Now for some tandoori chicken cooked to perfection. Some spicy, tender, and totally delicious curried goat, and made-to-order potato masala dosas.”
19. Explaining the stereotype of a typical Texan versus the much more welcoming reality in Houston: “The stereotype is that this is an intolerant state full of right-wing cowboys that don’t like foreigners.”
20. Making his argument against the Trump campaign slogan: “Some people say Make America Great Again. I say America was great all along. Some of us just forgot why.”
21. On why America was great all along: “It’s great because your grandfather and my grandfather and just about everybody’s damn grandfather or great-grandfather crammed themselves, snuck, bought their way, or was dragged onto a boat and one way or another allowed themselves eventually to dream. You can. There’s still room. And in some places in America, apparently, you’re still welcome. Welcome, stranger. This land is your land.”