I’ve been reading a ton this summer, and recently finished Eddie Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off the Boat.
In the book, Huang retraces his rough upbringing in Florida—constantly dealing with blatant, violent racism—to a life-changing few months in Taiwan, to law school and beyond in NYC, where he launched a street clothing line and opened Baohaus, his successful restaurant.
Huang’s voice is distinct—slang-inflected and and at times rambling. His ’90s hip-hop references and matter-of-fact observations had me laughing out loud. And I appreciated how he didn’t sugarcoat just how tough it can be as an Asian-American. I could certainly relate to dealing with ignorant people while growing up, and even now.
But by far, my favorite part of the book was the end, when things started looking up for Huang. He discovered the amazing breadth of the NYC food scene and eventually found his own place in it:
I liked how we all took ownership in the city, its culture, and its food. We still argue all the time about soup dumplings. Tourists and cornballs love Joe’s Shanghai, but everyone knows it’s Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao holding down in Flushing…we’ll go on and on about how great the lox and whitefish are at Russ & Daughters, but how undeserving their bagels are. The biggest travesty in downtown New York is that you have to buy your lox at R&D then take the train up to Ess-a-Bagel to put together a proper lox, caper, red onion, cream cheese, on sesame or salt bagel. We wish 2nd Ave Deli was still on Second Avenue, we worry about the old man’s health at Di Fara Pizza, and we still don’t understand how people can go to Szechuan Gourmet and order from the American Chinese menu while we get busy with the chili leek intestine casserole and a Diet Coke.
But despite the misfires, overhyped openings, and super-restaurants that mar the landscape, New York is the best eating city not named Tokyo or Taipei, and we owe it to the people Fresh Off the Boat. From the old chick selling churros on the Sunset Park D train to the stray cat crawling over the counter at Fort Greene’s Farmer in the Deli to Peter Luger’s in Williamsburg to Great N.Y. Noodletown on Bowery to Shopsin’s on Essex to Baohaus on Fourteenth to La Taza de Oro on Ninth Avenue to Sapporo on forty-ninth to the golden elevator at Kuruma Zushi to Lechonera in Harlem to SriPraPhai in Woodside to Mario’s on Arthur Avenue, it’s an army of first- and second-generation immigrants that feed this city.
I couldn’t help but smile when I read those two paragraphs—because it’s all 100% true!
I’ve had awesome meals at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, Szechuan Gourmet, Great N.Y. Noodletown and SriPraPhi. I’ve eaten more Ess-a-Bagels than I could ever count. (In fact, that was my “poverty diet” lunch for years, when I worked across the street from the shop. I was making so little money that all I could afford was a bagel with nothing on it, because it only cost $1 and filled me up for hours.)
And we really do worry about the old dude’s health at Di Fara! Because if he goes, who will make the pizza?!
Plus, whenever I ask myself if I could ever leave NYC, the same few things remind me that I couldn’t: My family. Ballet. And the food, for exactly the reason Huang states: all the immigrants from around the world, cooking their specialties and serving them up to hungry, curious and appreciative New Yorkers.
Not something you find in every city!
(Image via Friends We Love)