There are so many ideas, cultural references, and extended riffs on identity politics in Eddie Huangâs âFresh Off the Boat,âÂ it can be easy to forget the book is, at heart, a food memoir. Huang is the proprietor of Baohaus on New Yorkâs Lower East Side, which was a smash hit from the moment it opened its doors on Christmas Eve, 2009, with just five items on the menu. Serving bao â steamed Chinese buns filled with pork, chicken, or tofu â to the neighborhoodâs young, late-night-partying denizens, Huang found the purpose that had so far been lacking in his eventful life.
Raised in Orlando, Florida by immigrant parents, Huang battled racism at school and his familyâs expectations he become a âmodel minorityâ at home. A self-described ârotten banana,â he grew up identifying with hip hop culture, and tried a variety of occupations, ranging from drug dealer to sneaker scalper to lawyer to stand up comic, before a stint on the Food Networkâs Ultimate Recipe Showdown inspired him to return to his first love: food. Because while he was tangling with the law and grappling with his own identity, he never stopped eating. Here are four of the best food scenes from his book, from the nauseating to the mouthwatering.
1. A truly exotic meal, Orlando-style:
âI had never eaten at a white personâs house, but I just figured they ate pizza, hot dogs, or something like thatâŠ Jeffâs mom came out of the kitchen with two bowls. One bowl was filled with goopy orange stuff. The other bowl was gray and filled with a fibrous material mixed with bits of celeryâŠ Jeff started wiping the gray stuff on the bread. IÂ didn'tÂ want to come off like an idiot so I did the same thingâŠ I took a deep breath, clutched my orange juice, and forced myself to take a bite. Right on cue, gag reflex, boom went the orange juiceâŠ I had to ask. âWhat is that, man?â âÂ You'veÂ never had tuna fish sandwiches?â âNo, neverâŠ whatâs the orange stuff?â âMacaroni and cheese.â âWhatâs macaroni?â
2. Things got better once Huang started improvising with classics like Thanksgiving dinner:
âWe dumped a bunch of salt water into a bucket and brined the turkey that year, then rubbed the infused butter under the skinâŠ the salt carried the flavors throughout the meat and maintained its moisture. Very important lesson every good cook learns early on: master salt. It doesnât matter how great your aromatics or spice mixes are: if you donât have the proper salt levels, the flavors wonât travel. I also made a stuffing from scratchâŠ I bought Popeyeâs biscuits, let them dry out for a day, then sautĂ©ed some loose country sausage with butter, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, cracked black pepper, tossed in dried biscuit crumbs and finished with a little cream, sugar, and a pinch of chili powderâŠ Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday because it was the first one I felt like a full participant in.â
3. In the kitchen, necessity proved the mother of invention, especially with a bad case of the munchies:
âJustin called me âGourmet,â âcause every time we got high, I couldnât just eat the chips or cookies. I made ill stoner food, like Doritos sandwiches, where I took ham, turkey, and cheese and rolled it up on plates, then sandwiches them between Doritos. Iâd microwave cookies and eat them with ice cream, bake macaroni and cheese with crushed Cheetos on top, real disgusting Scooby snacksâŠ I put the frozen chimichangas on plates and starting ironing (them.) Fifteen minutes later, we were eating chimichangas with crispy exteriors and I was officially the Iron Chef.â
4. In creating his recipe for the Ultimate Recipe Showdown, an impromptu nap was the secret ingredient to his braised skirt steak:
âThe skirt steak needed a good ninety minutes to break down and finish so I added some soy sauce, rock candy, and water, turned down the heat, and let it simmer. I turned on my TV to watch the Knicks gameâŠ After about thirty minutesâŠ I passed out. I was totally knocked out when I smelled something burningâŠLuckily, the entire sauce hadnât carmelized yet. I pulled out a big chunk of skirt steak and peeled off the charred crust. Underneath this crusty, dark, fossil-looking piece of skirt steak was ill, tender, dark pink pieces of sweet, savory, aromatic skirt steak. I knew from that first burnt piece of skirt steak that I had a hit record.â