Around The World in One State
Modern-day Texas is a terrific destination to break out of your comfort zone because of its cultural diversity, which is fueled by waves of immigration from all over the world. To extend our horizons, we put our Mandarin skills to the test in Houston and learn oompah dance routines in Fredericksburg.
Texas, with its 269,000 square miles and 27 million people, is a melting pot of cultures. In the state's small villages and big cities, ethnic enclaves and chic melting-pot neighborhoods are the rule, not the exception. We visited dynamic communities to take a virtual global tour without the need for a passport.
Chinatown in Houston
Since the early 1980s, Chinatown—or Asia Town, as some call it—has been home to hundreds of restaurants and retailers representing a diverse range of ethnicities.
Various ethnic businesses, primarily Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Laotian, Thai, Malaysian, Korean, and Japanese, have set up shop close to one another. It's a pan-Asian blend you won't find in other Chinatowns, concentrated along a six-mile stretch of Bellaire Road.
Hong Kong City Mall, a retail mall with predominantly Vietnamese-owned stores, is a good place to start. We looked through Phuong My Music's V-pop (Vietnamese pop) selection and admired the áo dàis (traditional Vietnamese dresses) in various fabric shops.
ChinatownChinatown, Houston, TX 77036, USA
“We perused the selection of V-pop, or Vietnamese pop, at Phuong My Music; sipped boba tea at Teahouse Tapioca and Tea; and admired the áo dàis, or traditional Vietnamese dresses, at various fabric shops.”
Ocean Palace, a huge, banquet-style Chinese restaurant noted for its dim sum, is located in one of the mall's corners. The restaurant is lively and boisterous, with waitresses moving carts presenting a feast of bite-sized goodies. The congee, noodles, and dumplings were all great, and the service was quick and courteous.
We went shopping after lunch on Harwin Drive, a bargain-hunting mecca where stores sell designer knockoffs, electronics, purses, and sunglasses. We went to Tony Thai for supper, where the basil softshell crab and tom yum soup won the night.
We felt like we hadn't even scratched the surface of Chinatown after all of this.
Germany in Texas
A journey through Fredericksburg, about 80 miles west of Austin, takes you somewhere you wouldn't expect. The main street's charmingly lovely storefronts make you feel as if you've stumbled upon a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
You're in German country—or, to be more precise, Texas German country. In the mid-1800s, Central European immigrants arrived, bringing their culture and cuisine with them. Hill Country villages such as New Braunfels, Boerne, Walburg, and Comfort retain a Teutonic character to this day.
FredericksburgFredericksburg, TX 78624, USA
"While Fredericksburg’s iteration of the Bavarian holiday has all the usual trappings... everything seems more amplified: oompah bands have more oomph, and the lederhosen seem more ubiquitous."
Fredericksburg is particularly adept at displaying its history. Some businesses still refer to the town as "Fritztown," the nickname given to it by early German settlers, and half-timbered buildings line the 3.5-mile Main Street, also known as Hauptstrasse.
We came to a halt at Pioneer Museum, a collection of 1840s-era homes that chronicle the town's early years. On a guided tour, we marveled at the re-created Vereins Kirche, the city's first public edifice, which dates from 1896, and saw hundreds of relics and images.
Of course, Oktoberfest is the greatest time to immerse yourself in German culture. The Bavarian holiday in Fredericksburg has all the usual trappings: beer tents spanning several blocks, three covered stages with oompah, polka, and waltz tunes, two tents of juried original work by local artisans, and more than a dozen food vendors selling sizzling bratwurst and other German staples.
Everything about Oktoberfest Fredericksburg appears more exaggerated, bolstered by its authentic past and charged by waves of visitors: oompah bands have more oomph, lederhosen look more widespread, and the annual choreographed chicken dance is so enormous that the first 340 people who engage earn a reward.
A 340-person chicken dance is considered a solid start in Fredericksburg.
Why travel abroad when Paris is right here in the United States? Visit these Texas towns named after international cities and nations to save money on a plane ticket: Athens, China, Egypt, London, Paris, and Turkey.