Book notes: Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang book summary review and key ideas.

Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Synopsis:

“Eddie Huang is the 30-year-old proprietor of Baohaus – the hot East Village hangout where foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food late into the night – and one of the food world’s brightest and most controversial young stars. But before he created the perfect home for himself in a small patch of downtown New York, Eddie wandered the American wilderness looking for a place to call his own.

Eddie grew up in theme-park America, on a could-be-anywhere cul-de-sac in suburban Orlando, raised by a wild family of FOB (“fresh off the boat”) hustlers and hysterics from Taiwan. While his father improbably launched a series of successful seafood and steak restaurants, Eddie burned his way through American culture, defying every “model minority” stereotype along the way. He obsessed over football, fought the all-American boys who called him a chink, partied like a gremlin, sold drugs with his crew, and idolized Tupac. His anchor through it all was food – from making Southern ribs with the Haitian cooks in his dad’s restaurant to preparing traditional meals in his mother’s kitchen to haunting the midnight markets of Taipei when he was shipped off to the homeland. After misadventures as an unlikely lawyer, street fashion renegade, and stand-up comic, Eddie finally threw everything he loved – past and present, family, and food – into his own restaurant, bringing together a legacy stretching back to China and the shards of global culture he’d melded into his own identity.

Funny, raw, and moving, and told in an irrepressibly alive and original voice, Fresh Off the Boat recasts the immigrant’s story for the 21st century. It’s a story of food, family, and the forging of a new notion of what it means to be American.” -Audible


Opening thoughts:

This book was recommended by my friend My and he said he loved it. As I mentioned before, I take personal recommendations from friends and fellow book lovers very seriously. After reading the synopsis and reviews, it seems like it’ll be a good book. I’ve heard of the show and have seen clips of it, and it looks really funny. I’m assuming this will be similar. Also, I have no clue who this Eddie Huang is but I’m sure I’ll also find that out, haha.


Key notes:

  • He says this book is for anyone who was told they should think or act a certain way just because of where they come from or what they look like
  • Apparently the Chinese way is to just drink more when things go bad
    • He thinks maybe we are all over diagnosed and people should leave others alone

Reader’s note: Wow, he’s really going into a lot of details about different types of food and how to cook. Is he a chef or something? Because that’s a pretty strong guess right now for me

  • His mom was 20 when they had him, so she says that her and Eddie grew up together
    • Whenever his mom and dad fought, she would take him and drive around and talk about her problems
    • He was always ready and had her back

Chapter 2: God Has Assholes for Children

  • His mom could see that the bullying about his food was getting to him so she decided to get him different foods for lunch
    • But she also cared about his health and didn’t want to feed him bad sugary food
  • He was never the same after an incident when he was nine and was called a “chink”
    • He fought back and got punished by the principal, but his mom was the only one who had is back
    • He said after that moment, he wouldn’t let anyone back him into a corner anymore
  • Since then he became the rough kid I would never back down from a fight and would stand up for himself
    • He always seem to stay in trouble

Chapter 3: Rosetta Stone

  • His dad was the type of person to laugh and beat the dreams out of him
    • He was a dream-stealer and wanted to inject a healthy dose of reality and pessimism into his kids
    • Eddie would develop a complex where he knew the way he looked would be a disadvantage for him to achieve what he wants
  • He’s talking about how he gets certain sides of his characteristics and personality from his mom side and certain things from his dad side
  • His grandmother’s unbinding taught him to appreciate education and challenge conventions
  • Professional cooking is to take something that already speaks to us, do it at the highest level, and force everyone else to step up too
    • Food at its best uplifts the whole community, makes everyone rise to its standard
  • His dad took him to his old friends noodle cart as a right of passage
    • Apparently back in the day, his dad was a gangster and went hard in the streets
  • His trip back to Taiwan with his dad showed him that his dad was a local legend who wasn’t just trying to kick Eddie’s ass and be hard on him for no reason, but make him into a man like he knew
    • He finally saw Taiwan as a part of him
  • His dad told him and his brothers that even though Taiwan might seem great, they should love America because it is the land of opportunity
    • It is also a place with freedom that his dad couldn’t have in Taiwan like growing his hair and dating
  • He realized that day from his dads weird insight that anyone can be a dad, you just need live bullets

Chapter 4: Rotten Bananas

  • He and Emery were a unit
    • He would be the older brother that tried to keep things under control but he would get stomach aches from all the family stress
  • Despite what his parents did to him and his brothers, he would always defend them to everyone on the outside
    • His parents would constantly fight, but Eddie also suffered a lot of physical and mental abuse from them
  • Charles Barkley was his role model because he persisted despite constantly being made fun of, just like Eddie
  • As marginalized Asian kids, hip-hop and its culture resonated with them
    • They adopted it not to be cool but because they felt the same way and could relate to the feelings of black rappers and athletes
  • He used the same principles and cover his dad’s been using for years:
    • Show good face
    • Always put your best foot forward in public
    • Don’t show any cracks in the family unit
    • Stick together 
  • Eddie was pissed for defending his parents with the social workers, but he knew it was the right thing to do for his brothers because they needed their parents
    • Eddie gained the reputation and his family for being the wise old son for getting them out of the trouble

Chapter 5: This American Life

  • [No notes]

Chapter 6: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

  • His first Asian homie was a Filipino kid named Joey who was the opposite of him hip-hop wise, but the Filipinos in Orlando were really chill and not militant about their culture
    • Eddie figured that Joey was happy because his parents gave him everything he needed and some of what he wanted
  • Everyone knew he was generally a nice kid who is intelligent and wanted to learn, but a combination of the drama at home and the racist slurs from his peers would set him off like a switch
  • Even though his dad had made it and was ballin’ financially, he made a point to make sure his sons never stopped fighting and stayed sharp
    • Their new house in Orlando had a gym fighting room so the boys could stay fit
    • His dad wanted to make sure that their money never change them and kept them hungry and fighting

Chapter 7: Chain Reaction

  • To them, Pat was the ultimate role model and artist, who said things that mattered and was positive
    • He made them believe that they could wear three-piece suits and write poetry
    • He reminded them that it was bigger than hip-hop 
  • His friend Warren, who had opposite viewpoints as him, showed him that no man is an island
    • He says his greatest strength is perspective
      • The best way to get that is to meet people that are polar opposites
      • You learned the most from them
    • There are pieces of you that are inherently yours, but everything else is a collection of the things you’ve seen, and the people you’ve met 
  • He didn’t feel right accepting an expensive Mercedes Benz car from his dad for his birthday
    • It didn’t feel right to him because he didn’t earn it, it was his dad’s car that he bought
  • To him, money might seem important for how other people see you, however he believes it only means something if you’ve earned it

Chapter 8: Pink Nipples

  • Eddie argued against the teacher and her assignment to write about how the holocaust was the greatest crime against humanity
    • His paper was about how it’s unproductive to argue that there’s one single greatest crime against humanity
    • There’s nothing great about any of them
  • It’s harder to resist assimilation, but there’s honor in it

Chapter 9: Len Bias Broke My Heart

  • During those years in high school he and his father got closer and the home situation calm down a bit
    • His dad was proud of him when he picked him up from Juvie and laughed saying he should’ve not gotten caught 
  • He realized after working with his dad that they are alike
    • They want to be independent and don’t want anyone to depend on them
    • They are horrible trainers because they always tell people to figure it out when someone asks for help
  • He realize that the reason why his dad was so cold was because he was scared of being vulnerable and loving his children and family
    • He hated not having more control in their lives and living his kids lives for them
    • His dad knew he got a lot of his character from independence, struggle, and failure
      • And that was the plan for his kids, to run out into the wild and hopefully return in one piece
  • In his head, his dad thought this plan would work, but when Eddie came back with these bad results he would beat the crap out of him
    • He knew his dad love them, he just hated that his kids made him vulnerable
  • His dad never asked him or made him do anything, but he did ask for him to stop doing ecstasy and coke
    • Eddie figured if he only asked for this one thing, he would grant him his wish
    • Eddie felt good after his can you talk with his dad, and he had a reason to stop doing things he knew was self-destructive
      • Sometimes, that’s all kids need, a reason to live 
  • Since Eddie tried his best to quality-control and oversee at his dad’s restaurant, he started to see how difficult it was to own a restaurant
    • Everyone in the restaurant needs to do things exactly how you teach them or you lose money
    • Additionally, they need to think like you and more importantly care like you
    • If you really wanted good employees that have your interests at heart, they needed to buy in
  • As a manager, the key is to understand and accept the human element
    • No one is perfect, and if they were, they wouldn’t be working for you
  • His dad understood you had to have the proper expectations of restaurants
    • You understand people’s strengths and weaknesses and put them in a position to succeed
    • There are numerous positions in a restaurant and it’s your job as the owner to find the right fit
  • Style isn’t an excuse to cook without a standard
    • Style just determines the set of rules you choose

Chapter 10: Special Herbs

  • You don’t go to school and talk about what happens at home
    • You just try to be normal because that’s all you see
    • Then one day you get exposed to hip-hop and realize there are others out there like you
  • His friend Gumba taught him that culture could be just as powerful if you absorbed it as a metaphor, not a list of commandments
    • You could live through it, learn from it, find yourself in it, and let it change you
    • A poem, not a script
    • As the saying goes, you learn more from goobers than wise men
  • He believes that frats are the beginning of the end for most of the people who end up running the world
    • It teaches them to give up individuality, independence, and even their paper for acceptance
  • While he hated being Chinese in American culture, he respected the house he was raised in
    • He wasn’t so vocal about Asian identity, but without his parents around, he felt a sudden need to say something himself
    • It’s funny how annoying he thought his mom was, but as soon as she wasn’t around, he carried the torch for her
  • He got along with the Filipinos because they didn’t have the same institutional pressure to be anything else so they were free to be themselves
  • He learned that there were universal food truths
    • Every culture had dishes that prized the simple and traditional over the showy flavors and elaborate presentations
    • The things that may not seem worthy are first overlooked but over time they become and indispensable part of your life
  • The best dishes have depth without doing too much
    • It’s about paying close attention to the ingredients you already have
  • Patience, attention, and restraint are the keys to good cooking

Chapter 11: The End of the Beginning

  • He started dealing drugs to fat boys college students

Chapter 12: Night Market

  • He says this isn’t a food book or food memoir. It’s more about identity, race, finding happiness in yourself, in America and the world than it is about food
  • He’s highlighting beef noodle soup because it really exemplifies what he feels is at the core of the book: you shouldn’t define things by their title, how it looks, stereotypes, stigmas
    • It came from China, perfected in Taiwan, but is constantly being updated and innovated.
  • The airport honestly felt more like home to him than America or Taiwan
    • With all of the variety of food, there is something for everyone
    • He felt it was the only place he didn’t have to explain anything
      • Everyone was in between

Chapter 13: Royal Huang

  • He realize you can’t tear down the masters house with the masters tools
  • After he got back from Taiwan, he started to fall in love with school
    • He took marketing and business to appease his parents, but he found joy in taking classes in various kinds of studies and arts
      • He ate it all up
  • He didn’t even care about partying, hanging out, or making friends
    • All of his new friends were dead people (in books)
  • His female professor reinforced the lesson that his dad taught him: never ever back down if you are right
    • If you valued all the perspectives, gone around the round table and come back with the same opinion, then walk right up to the offending party and tell them why you’re mad
  • His second professor taught him discipline and structure
    • His third professor helped him work on his weakness which was his grammar
  • He ended up getting interviewed by the local paper as a beat writer and his whole family was excited because they had read this newspaper for over a decade

Chapter 14: I Know a Little Bit

  • Eddie saw that Obama had his own moral compass
    • He knew what he felt was right and had no problem saying it
    • For the first time, there is a presidential candidate that he thought he could relate to you on a political, cultural, and personal level
      • He says Obama is his homeboy
  • He realized that if he wanted to see change in the world, he had to make dollars first 
  • He understood that we live in an adversarial world. The economy, our politics, and the judicial system are all adversarial
    • If you want your voice to be heard, you have to fight. There’s no other way around it.
  • If you know you’re right and you have the answers it is your duty to tell the world

Chapter 15: Hypebeasts

  • For the record, he loves Eminem. He’s as real as you can be
    • It’s just inevitable that he and other artists like P Diddy would push hip-hop into the main stream
  • At the end of the day, you need the hypebeasts because they drive the culture forward and allow you to keep creating
    • You just can’t bet your culture on their consumption because their loyalty is fleeting
  • He noticed as a comic you don’t go up there and cover every aspect of your character
    • You pick out the most interesting, hilarious facet of yourself and turn that shit up to 100
  • People think it’s funny but stereotypes have the power to become self-fulfilling prophecies if we aren’t aware

Chapter 16: They Don’t Love Me, They Just Love My Tiger Style

  • He believes New York is the best eating city not named Tokyo or Taipei
    • They owe it to people fresh off the boat

Reader’s note: I love how Eddie is describing this white cultural appropriation of ethnic food and how it’s basically imperialism in a sauté pan. How white people think that they need to clean up ethnic food when in reality it’s good as it is.

  • His entire life, the single most interesting thing to him was race in America
    • It was the theme that tied together all of his interests

Chapter 17: Worldstar

  • People forget how powerful the culture of the restaurant is
    • Food is what’s on the plate but dining extends beyond it. 
  • He wanted Bauhaus to be the vibe of the street noodle car from his dad’s hometown, but the food would be always a derivative of what he learned from his mom 
    • His main objective for Baohaus was to become a voice for Asian Americans
  • Whether you accept it or not, when you’re a visible Asian you have a torch to carry because we simply don’t have any other representation
  • Take the things from America that speak to you, that excite you and inspire you
    • Be the Americans we all want to know
    • Then cook it up and sell it back to them for $28.99

Main ideas / Themes:

  1. Family – always having each other’s backs, no matter what. We all have our deficiencies and dysfunctions. But this never stopped Eddie from having his family’s back. He also realized what a huge role his mom and dad had in his own development. He got his dad’s independence, but also his mom’s resilience. He learned about hard work and business from his dad, but also food and culture from his mom.
  2. Food is a powerful influence in any community – food is a cornerstone of culture, which traverses all of the communities and circle’s he’s been a part of. There are universal food truths, like how every culture had dishes that prized the simple and traditional. And the best foods were ones that were so subtle, but were indispensable. Patience, attention, and restraint are the keys to good cooking.
  3. We do the best with what we got – His family was hard on him, but that’s all they knew in order to survive. He learned to appreciate things like education and challenging norms because he was already at a disadvantage from birth being Asian-American in America. But even his dad told him and his brothers to love America because it is the land of opportunity, the likes of which they couldn’t get in Taiwan.
  4. Standing up for what you believe in and challenging norms – He showed this while growing up a lot. Whether it was being bullied, protecting his family, proving people wrong, etc. Charles Barkley was his role model because he persisted despite being made fun of. He wanted to follow his own path and eventually discovered it. He got involved in politics and writing to have his voice be heard.
  5. Money only means something if you earn it – This idea came when he found out his dad was actually well-off financially, but he didn’t want to accept an expensive birthday gift. To Eddie, it doesn’t matter what you have unless you earned it yourself. Otherwise it has no meaning or significance.
  6. Perspective is a powerful thing – Throughout his journey, Eddie has come across so many people with different points of view and life experiences. He tries to learn from all of them in order to become more education and make good decisions for himself. It’s like his professor told him, once you’ve engaged in conversation with everyone around the table and found the truth, you need to stand up for it.
  7. You shouldn’t define things by their title, how it looks, stereotypes, stigmas – Eddie mentions that everything he’s done, all of this interests and passions, his entire life has been focused around this theme. Whether it be his relationship with his family, being an entrepreneur, finding himself, going to school, and opening his own restaurant, and eventually finding success.

Closing thoughts:

I LOVED this book. One of my new favorite autobiographies/memoirs I’ve read in a while. It has all of the elements of a compelling narrative, intriguing character, amazing growth journey, and strong themes. Eddie has had such a unique journey, but you can’t help but be inspired by how far he’s come and how he eventually managed to find his way.

I highly recommend this book, not only for Asian Americans, but for anyone. The themes of culture, race, identity, and fighting stigmas and stereotypes is universal, which makes this book a fantastic read.


One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

This book really opened my eyes to the importance of food in any culture. It really made me think about how a lot of our heritage and culture is passed down in the food we eat. I started to pay attention and take notice of all the dishes in my own culture.

Therefore, my takeaway is:

  • Take note of different food dishes and try to understand how it relates on a deeper level to the culture it comes from

Nutshell:

Entrepreneur Eddie Huang tells about his experience growing up as an Asian American. He follows the themes of identity, race, finding happiness in yourself, in America and the world.


Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

4.5/5

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