by Eric Hunter, SF Bay View Oakland Bureau
During this past holiday season, I took a trip to Houston, Texas, to visit some family. I also wanted to explore and examine the culture of the city. Houston has a reputation for being a very fun place. I didn’t want to come off like a typical tourist. I was with my people, who are locals, so I wanted to enjoy myself the way the locals do. What I experienced during my short visit has given me a deeper understanding of Houston culture. The core element of the culture that stuck out to me were the cars and the food.
The weather was wonderful. Sunny, warm and humid. Houston is a big city with broad highways. Everything is vast and spread out. It seemed as if many places were so far away from each other. The speed limit is slower than here in California, as low as 55 on freeways. The way the freeways are constructed is confusing. There are a lot of loops and off-ramps, so if you miss one exit, you’re going to have a hard time navigating. This explains Houston’s unique car culture.
Houston is the home of “The Slab.” “Slabs” are usually customized old school cars like Cadillacs, Lincolns and Buicks. What makes Slabs unique are the large rims that stick out on the sides called “swangas” or “elbows.” There’s a famous stunt they do with their cars they call “Swangin” or “Tippin,” where they slowly swerve from lane to lane in a caravan of cars like a parade. In Oakland, we do something similar at our “Sideshows” called “hyphy trains,” where the activity is at a faster pace.
When it comes to food, Houston stands out for its BBQ and seafood. This is probably because the city of Houston has a lot of bayous and farmland. Food is the core of culture because it represents the resources of the region. In most metropolitan urban areas, they have events where they bring out a variety of local food trucks. This activity generates a lot of revenue for small businesses. Supporting these businesses boosts the economy and enables us to employ ourselves. It’s also a very fun opportunity to fellowship with family and socialize outdoors, which has been a rare opportunity since the pandemic.
I took my family out to a place called Houston Grub Park. Located at BayouTech Park off of S Loop W (1615 S Loop W).There were about 20 food trucks with amazing aromas of different scents of gourmet cooking surrounding us. We stopped at a food truck called “Twisted Grilled Cheese.” I ordered the TGC 5 Cheese Classic sandwich for my son. It had white and yellow cheddar cheeses, provolone, mozzarella, melted with smoked turkey on crispy toasted sourdough bread. My son loved it! He said it was awesome.
While we waited in line, we heard one of the workers at a nearby food truck shouting out clever sales pitches to advertise his food and offering samples. They caught my attention. I respected the hustle and work ethic, plus the food smelled great. We sampled some BBQ chicken and were satisfied with how it tasted, so we decided to order our food from there.
This particular food truck belonged to Stewart Brothas BBQ. They are based on the west side of Houston. I checked out their website to learn more about their background. It says, “The Stewart Brothas BBQ and Catering Co. was founded by Michael Stewart-Owner, Mark Stewart-CEO and Tracy Stewart-COO, in May 2015 after all three Stewart brothers had been catering parties and personal events for years. They decided to combine culinary and grilling skills to form Stewart Brothas BBQ.”
We ordered some BBQ chicken, beef sausage links and some ribs, with sides of baked beans, mac and cheese, potato salad and a butter pecan cheesecake. The meat was tender, well seasoned and smoked to perfection. The sauce was bold, sweet and tangy. It had that savory taste that makes you wanna chew your food for a while to enjoy it.
The butter pecan cheesecake was thick, creamy, smooth and sweet, with a crispy and crunchy crust. They definitely treated everyone with that good ol’ Southern hospitality. The brother who was shouting the sales pitch was addressing the public like he was making a speech. He thanked everyone for coming out and supporting Black businesses, followed by a prayer. I appreciated him for acknowledging how important it was to support each other.
Overall, I had a great time in Houston. Most of us Black folks from California have roots in the South. I can definitely see the connection of the common culture and customs. I appreciate the change of scenery and environment. I felt home and welcome. I felt that Southern hospitality that everyone talks about. This quality time I got to spend with my family was priceless. We made memories that we can tell stories about and pass them down for generations. It was a very educational, entertaining and relaxing experience. I will be back soon!
Journalist Eric Hunter (E De Ref), an Oakland native, is Minister of Public Relations for the Black Riders Liberation Party and Co-Editor of African Intercommunal News Service. He writes for Black New World Media and the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau headed by JR Valrey. Hunter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.