Eddie Huang always knew he had a book in him. "Growing up in Florida, I was like, 'I can't be the only one that feels this way about America,'" he says. "Everybody tells you it's the greatest country in the world and I was like, 'I can't be the only one that feels like I was sold a bag of shit.'" But it was only after the New York Times gave a rare goose egg to his (since-shuttered) restaurant Xiao Ye that Huang, blogging about his disappointment from an Internet café, got an email from an agent.
Huang's memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, takes him from eating soup dumplings on his sixth birthday to hot-boxing his Lower East Side sandwich shop Baohaus, which has been serving Taiwanese-style pork buns to a hip-hop soundtrack since Christmas 2009. Along the way, Huang picks up brining techniques, Jordan sneakers, Swiftian satire, a felony assault charge and a J.D. "I wanted Baohaus to be a place the neighborhood embraced," Huang writes. And indeed, the whole city fell not just for Huang's bao (which New York magazine listed as the city's best buns) but for his brash, slang-inflected opinions on cooking, which migrated from his blog to a web series on vice.com and an occasional column in the New York Observer. Fans already familiar with Huang's persona might be surprised by incidents of violence throughout the book, like when he avenges an attack on his younger brother: "I beat that kid like he was...Reaganomics, the Counting Crows and Moby-Dick all rolled into one." As he now explains, "I'm a funny guy, but there's definitely two sides to who I am. I wanted to write about my experience because on one level it's the American story. On another level it's the Asian-American story. But on another level it's also asking, is there an essential self?"
At the book's end, Huang writes, "I just gave you the blueprint." But it's hard to imagine anyone even trying to follow in his steps. "The blueprint is that there isn't a blueprint," Huang says now. "The blueprint is to go out there and find your own America."
Fresh Off the Boat is out January 29 from Spiegel & Grau