Last year, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson brought his PBS/Eater series No Passport Required to Houston intent on exposing the city's dynamic West African culture. Tonight, the episode premieres (9 p.m. on PBS), and the hour-long stroll through Bayou City is very much worth your time, if only to give you some ideas on where to eat tomorrow, this weekend ... any time, really.
We caught a preview of the episode and will tell you five things we liked (without spoiling anything):
1. A range of West African restaurants is covered.
You'll get the mom-and-pop spots (there's a breakout performer at one Nigerian stalwart), the contemporary efforts to expose West African cuisine to non-Africans (there's another breakout performer in the kitchen of one Galleria-area eatery), and the outstanding tasting-menu restaurant that includes a conversation about the history of West African and American culture and cuisine (you probably know that one). The hour evolves from Houston's West African roots to its future, and it's lovely to watch.
2. You'll want some jollof rice now.
Jollof rice, that fragrant and spicy rice and vegetable dish that's cooked throughout West Africa, is the single item that bridges all cultures and goes on every menu at every West African spot in town. During the episode, Samuelsson eats jollof at just about every restaurant he visits, and it looks good no matter how many times it's shown. Get yours ASAP.
3. You'll want a recipe for goat pepper soup.
Samuelsson eats goat pepper soup twice during the episode; once it's made traditionally, and later it's made through the influence of pho. Either way, you'll want to make it yourself. Just be sure to get those ingredients at a certain market Samuelsson visits early in the episode.
4. "The Dream" gets a shoutout.
No Passport Required successfully weaves together food and history (they're one in the same, after all). So, when midway through the episode, Samuelsson brings up Hakeem Olajuwon and his impact in advancing Nigerian and West African culture in America, it won't feel forced at all. In fact, you can't tell Houston's West African story without mentioning "The Dream." It all fits well.
5. West African Houston looks really good.
When television series have looked into Houston's food scene, they've taken a somewhat broader stance, chatting up the big-name chefs, eating at the big-name restaurants, and telling people the big talking points. No Passport Required's aim is to focus on a city's subculture, and choosing West African is inspired. Admittedly, it's a subculture that I don't give enough love to—that has to change.
Nevertheless, the episode not only showcases the dishes that make Nigerian, Senegalese, Ghanaian, and Liberian cuisine sing, but it brings out the warmth and excitement of numerous people important in the West African food scene. Their passion for the culture alone make me want to visit their restaurants immediately. It's time we talk a lot more about West African food in Houston.