Arts | Books

'Fresh Off The Boat' And Serving Up Asian Culture

NPR | Feb. 3, 2013 6:23 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 3, 2013 2:52 p.m.

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NPR Staff

Eddie Huang has done a lot of things in a short period of time.

Huang has been a lawyer, stand-up comic, and now he’s the owner of New York’s Baohous restaurant and the host of his own food show on Vice TV.

The most remarkable parts of Huang’s life, however, took place before all that, back when he was growing up with his Taiwanese immigrant parents and navigating the ins and outs of American culture.

It’s all chronicled in his new memoir Fresh Off The Boat.

“I’ve always wanted to tell this story,” Huang says. “When I was 18, on the way off to college with my friend Warren … I was just like ‘man I really got to write about what just happened, because I’m sure there are other people going through this and we have no one to talk to.’”

Huang talked with Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin about his complicated relationship with his family, especially his father, food and hip-hop culture.

Interview Highlights

On his dad:

“My dad is a bad dude, not in a bad way, but he definitely was a very strong male presence in my life. And I thank him for that, because one of the biggest issues with the book and one of the things I wanted to talk about was Asian masculinity. It’s not something that is portrayed or talked about in the media, many times we’re emasculated. I never related to that, because my father was a man’s man, and he instilled a lot of those old-school masculine values in me. … My father is a very unique individual, and in his time a stereotype breaker just like me.”

On hip-hop culture’s influence on him:

“A lot of it is about struggle … and when they moved me to Florida it was very traumatic for me because going from a community with cousins and aunts and uncles and a lot of other Chinese people around … when I went to Orlando I really got snapped on a lot. One summer my cousin played The Chronic from Dr. Dre for me … [and] I really related to it. I couldn’t keep fighting … so I learned to box people verbally, and that’s what I really related to with hip hop is the lyrical swordplay.”

On making food a career:

“I was doing stand-up comedy and I really loved it, [and] I met a manager while I was performing at the Laugh Lounge and he told me, ‘you always bring chicken wings and fried rice to the events … why don’t you run with the food thing and do some food stuff and be funny.’ So I said OK. I applied to be on Ultimate Recipe Showdown, made it to the finals and was on the show. I lost … but that’s when I said you know what, I think food is the thing. Food is that thing that Americans expect Chinese people [and] Asian people to be good at.

” … What I’m really interested in is talking about my experience in America, but if they like my pork buns [and] if they like the things that I’m making then maybe they’ll listen to me. It worked, and you know I have to thank my mother for all of things she taught me about cooking and I have to thank my father.” [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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