When you are in Texas, it’s pretty hard to forget that you are in Texas. Everywhere you look there are businesses with “Lone Star” in their name, Texas flags proudly flying, and fancy pick-up trucks with bumper stickers proclaiming great things about the state.
One of my favorite things about Texas, in fact, is its strong sense of identity. Texas is like a loud-mouthed, opinionated friend you don’t always agree with, but you love to hang out with, anyway.
A couple days ago, however, it felt like I stepped out of Texas and into another country. My fiance and I popped over to nearby Haltom City for the afternoon, where we meandered through a strip mall full of Vietnamese shops: restaurants specializing in pho, coffeehouses, an Asian video store, and a shop with the snicker-worthy name of Dung Jewelry.
My favorite place was Nguyen Loi Oriental Supermarket. You can tell it’s been around a while, since the use of the word “oriental” is kinda dated. If they opened the place nowadays it would probably be called the “Asian Supermarket,” instead, y’know?
We have been to a couple of north Texas Indian markets, but this was the first Asian one I’ve seen around here. A while back, I was lamenting that I missed Uwajimaya’s, the large Japanese supermarket up in Seattle’s Chinatown. (As an aside, I call it Chinatown, because years ago when I worked at the Preservation and Development Authority there, a coworker pulled me aside and said, “Only white people call it the Asian District. Everyone else calls it Chinatown.” So I’ve stuck to that ever since, even though fellow whiteys sometimes criticize me for this!)
The moment I stepped into Nguyen Loi, I was greeted with an array of interesting odors. There were mysterious items in the produce section with names I could not pronounce and had no idea how to eat. The meat section included live fish and crab as well as an assortment of fresh-looking fish on ice. In addition to chicken eggs, the dairy section offered duck eggs, quail eggs and even fertilized hen eggs.
I was like a kid in a candy store, an illiterate kid who wasn’t even sure if they liked candy. Yeah, that’s the kind of kid I was. As I said to my fiance, “Dorothy, I don’t feel like we’re in Texas anymore.” He agreed and added that the smells were transporting him, which prompted me to send a text to Proust, who has yet to reply. (Then again, the cellphone coverage in his cork-lined study sucks.) I only regret that I took so few pictures.
Are there any places in your neck of the woods that make you feel like you are on a road trip? Places that transport you like a mini-vacation, or give you a taste of another culture?