I really enjoyed parts of Eddie’s first book, Fresh Off the Boat, but it annoyed me quite a bit in places as well. He’s a gifted writer when he’s writing about food, and he has some great insights into culture identity and self-discovery, but I really lost interest when he started bragging about his rebellious youth. His early life story was interesting, but I just couldn’t stand the way he decided to tell it.
This was much more up my alley. After the success of his first book, the restaurant, and the various food travel shows he hosts, he decided to travel to China to experiment with cooking his food for locals, to see how the Taiwanese dishes he grew up with and adapted for his restaurant worked with China-born palates. Would it be unrecognizable? If so, would they still like it? The main dish he was cooking for people was his red pork belly that he uses as a filling for the bao he serves in his restaurant, Baohaus.
It was also interesting to see how he fit in, as an American-born Taiwanese man, which was being tested in much the same way as his food. Like in his television shows, he uses food as a way to break in to a culture, to really learn about people. It’s a very common combination these days, the travel and food documentary or memoir, and it’s something that never bores me when it’s done well.
He framed the memoir with his relationship to his girlfriend. He begins the book explaining how they met, sharing the double cup from the title, and he ends the book with the plan to propose to her in China. It allowed for an interesting mix of culture comparison – the differences between his childhood life in a Chinese immigrant family and visiting her white family home, the differences between him as an American and the Chinese and what his life could have been had his parents remained in the country, and the differences in perception once his girlfriend joins him in China at the end of his trip.
Eddie Huang is very much an acquired taste. In some ways, he’s still a teenager at heart, in the most annoying ways, but there’s something about him that I really like. He’s passionate about investigating cultural divides through food, and he’s good at it. I sometimes disagree with what he’s says and does, but he always feels authentic in a way that makes me want to keep reading. His food writing is brilliant, as well. He can describe the local red pork belly from four different restaurants and you can almost taste the differences between them.
This novel did feel scattered at points, but overall I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to whatever his next book may be.