I haven’t seen the sitcom of the same name that was created from this book, but I have seen clips of Eddie Huang’s show on Vice. I wasn’t sure if I liked him then, and now after reading this I’m still not entirely sure what I think of him.
Eddie Huang is a restaurateur and a chef, with a successful Manhattan restaurant called BaoHaus that specializes in baozi, which are steamed Chinese meat buns. He became a known food personality after hosting a few shows on the Cooking Channel and, more recently, on Vice. He’s loud and brash, sometimes obnoxious, but he does have some interesting views and knows his way around food.
Huang grew up in Orlando, for most of his youth, and then moved to New York after university. His parents immigrated from Taiwan, and this autobiography deals largely with him growing up Asian in America, living in two worlds and feeling as if he doesn’t really fit either. He encountered a lot of racism growing up, both from students and teachers, and his home life with his parents was pretty bad at times as well. He started fighting a lot, getting into trouble at school, and selling drugs.
His life definitely had its obstacles, but he had a lot of breaks as well, and he doesn’t really seem to acknowledge that. His family was able to put him through law school, which he did just to prove he should be taken seriously. It feels like he wrote this before he reached that stage in life where you realize everyone else has problems too. So much of this felt like unwarranted bragging, and so many of his stories were juvenile to a cringe-worthy degree. If you’re young enough to think that stealing a tiki statue from someone’s yard or crashing a party and covering the host’s bunny in Doritos dust is prime material for your autobiography, you’re too young to be writing an autobiography.
It was American kitchen culture. Shit, it was American food culture. People would take pride in having hands covered by buffalo wing sauce or BBQ stains on their face. I remember watching meat heads in the dining room eat thirty-two-ounce porterhouses, challenging each other to see how much they could eat. The way those people experienced food didn’t make sense; it was gross to me. I always loved food, but it didn’t bring me any extra enjoyment to eat it or cook it like a frat boy.
I read this mainly because I thought it would be about food, having listed it as one of my Foodies Read 2016 picks, but that’s definitely not the main focus of the book. Food does play a large part, many of his memories are tied to the food he ate at that time, and it’s a major theme in his life, but you really have to pick through the corny high school stories to get to it. When he does talk about food, it’s fantastic. He describes it so well, adding just enough technical detail while letting his passion for the food shine through in every word. I really wanted more of that.
Eddie Huang feels like one of those friends that you’re slightly embarrassed to introduce to your other friends. They act like idiots, but if you get to know them they’re actually pretty cool. He can be hilarious at times, brutally honest, and is clearly a smart and passionate guy. His next book is out this month, Double Cup Love, and it looks to be a Chinese, food-centric travelogue, which I think could be much more up my alley.