South African Cuisine Finds A Home in Houston

Mark Choi

Video Producer, Editorial & Commercial

When people think of South African cuisine, it can be difficult to imagine what is on the plate. One of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, the “Rainbow Nation” draws influences from the British, Dutch, French, Indians, as well as the Portuguese. South African chef and entrepreneur Paul Friedman has lived in the great state of Texas for many years, but it wasn’t until he joined up with two University of Texas graduates and fraternity brothers Michael Tran and Thomas Nguyen, that the concept behind Peli Peli Restaurants came into focus. The idea wasn’t to just recreate authentic South African cuisine in a new location, but rather to draw on the inspiration and heart of the country itself – a blend of exotic, complex, and sometimes uncommon combinations that bring out something unique and special.

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When their original Peli Peli fine dining restaurant launched in 2009 in the wake of the housing crisis that crippled Houston’s economy, the business prevailed. The blend of sweet, savory, tart, and rich dishes found a natural home in one of the most diverse cities in the United States. The blending of South Africa’s original settlers has now culminated with Houston’s own diverse combination of ethnicities in delicious harmony, and the community has supported them in full. In return, Peli Peli has become a restaurant that gives back to the home it’s dubbed “The Rainbow City.”

Hosting several community charity events with local hospitals and schools, giving back has become the driving force of the company culture and mentality. Since then, the trifecta of Friedman, Tran, and Nguyen have opened two other restaurants in the heart of Houston’s Midtown Galleria district, as well as a fast-casual concept Peli Peli Kitchen, and with more planned to open this year. While the restaurant chain continues to expand, at the heart of each establishment is the same motivation – there should be no excuse for anyone, whether locality, economically, or otherwise, to not be able to enjoy their food and family.

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