Books: Starchy Fried Goodness and Other Vices

January 31, 2013

                                 Reposted from @mreddiehuang Instagram

“Chinese people don’t believe in
psychologists. We just drink more tea when things go bad.” –Eddie Huang

First of all, Eddie Huang is not fresh off any boat. Unless
he emigrated from Florida to NYC by way of a skiff up the Atlantic Seaboard,
he’s pretty American. Hood, in fact. All Hot Cheetos, rude behavior and

When I first stumbled on Eddie’s late-night stoner spot
serving stuffed steam buns (bao) on the Lower East Side, I was happy to find
it: It was earnest and hardworking, if a little rough around the edges. Just
how I like them. I liked that his walls had framed copies of his first negative
and his mother’s damning
. This was a guy willing to laugh at himself.

Since then, he’s made me laugh, pissed me off (both at him
and at the things that piss him off) and fed my belly with starchy fried
goodness. If he were on the west coast, his restaurant would be a no-brainer.
But here on the east coast, it’s a little more tricky. As he might say: It’s
mad Eurocentric, kid.

So he got louder: made more baos, blasted his dirty rap
music, showed up at more fashion shows, sloppy parties,
and gutter video shoots. They started to listen to him. They started to
consider that a restaurant and, indeed, a person could be both Asian and
American and who gives a shit, really. His online debates with Francis
(friend) and Marcus
(foe) on cultural misappropriation in the food industry sparked
healthy debate. He laid waste to the concept of “authenticity,” one of my least
favorite words within food (or maybe at all).

Now Huang is the proprietor of a new, improved bao spot near Union Square and a full-time
marketing machine. His book Fresh Off the Boat is a funny romp through his adventures
with sports, chicks, sneaker, guns, weed and the like. If you’re into that,
you’ll really like it. I was less into the “Chinaman” references (break out of
the queues and opium!), but loved the food stories (“I fux with Diasoric
Thanksgiving…”) and honest grappling with his crazy mixed high-low hip-hop

The book also delves into the harder parts of his
upbringing: family drama, racial alienation, Orlando. I laughed out loud when
he describes his mom packing seaweed salad for his Christian school lunch or
his Filipino friends as “frequently left out when the model-minority net got
dropped in the water.” One chapter is called “God Has Assholes for Children,” if
that gives you an idea of what to expect. He’s often pissed at “Asian American
herbs” but I think he’s really pissed at the narrow box he—and other Asian
Americans—found themselves in, in childhood south Florida, college Pittsburg,
PA, and finally his chosen hometown, New York City.

His tirade against “food missionaries” in favor of  first and second generation restaurant owners--the
heart of New York food life--should be required reading for anyone who thinks eating
occurs in a historical vacuum. He sees food as a linchpin to identity, a force
both stabilizing and vulnerable: the fun stuff of culture that becomes very
serious when someone tries to take it from you. “I was sick of the Jean-Georges
of the world making a killing on our ingredients and flavors because we were
too stupid to package it the right way,” Huang writes.

The book is a fun read from a do-or-die Chinese Floridian. Buy
, read it, write your own. And send some money to your local Asian
American Studies
department. There’s probably a rowdy Chinese kid out there
searching for his place in America and he shouldn’t have to go it alone, or
think he’s the first. 




Nina F. Ichikawa

Food & Agriculture Editor

Nina F. Ichikawa writes on food, agriculture and Asian American issues. She graduated U.C. Berkeley and Meiji Gakuin University in food policy, and her education also includes working as a restaurant dishwasher, making corsages at her family's 107-year-old flower shop and helping to establish the nation's first high school Asian American Studies program. She was a 2011-2013 Food and Community Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Twitters: @ninaeats.