Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir is one of the best books written this year, and probably the best autobiography. Owner of the popular New York eatery, Baohaus, Huang recounts his journey from growing up in middle-class Orlando, Florida, to his success as a restauranteur in New York City. Along the way, his road was littered with obstacles and blocks: his parents’ strict, possibly abusive, rearing styles; racism that marks nearly every major stage in his life which causes Huang to see his world with a jaundiced view; a self-destructive streak that landed him in jail. Huang proved to have a natural affinity for food, but surprisingly, he doesn’t look at cooking as a career option until near the end of this exciting tome. Written in an urgent, profane, and often hilarious voice, Fresh Off the Boat is a moving story of finding one’s passion.
Some will complain of Huang’s use of slang and hip-hop jargon – to those fuddie duddies, I say, that’s what Urban Dictionary’s for. It’s also annoying that some readers will view Huang’s inventive use of language as somehow less; bemoaning about the use of dialect or language is terribly narrow-minded: it would be like complaining about having to read Dickens because one’s vocabulary would be taxed: language is fluid and powerful, and Huang’s use of language is expressive and creates a vivid and distinct voice: one that is at times, angry, sad, or happy – but always passionate.
As great as the book is as a whole, it really shines when he recounts his troubled childhood – particularly when he writes of his difficult upbringing as well as the wonderful way he writes about his childhood friends. He creates a world of diverse and singular characters – all of whom are alive and transcend stereotypes, and come off as vibrantly human.
At times, reading Huang’s book can be frustrating – especially when he shares moments where his temper or machismo force him to do stupid things that land him in trouble – or prison. But he doesn’t make excuses, nor does he gloss over these less-than-flattering passages. He’s also not apologetic – instead, he’s matter-of-fact, sharing these moments because they’re important to the Eddie Huang present at the end of the book. Because Huang proves to be such an engaging writer (his blog is a great read too), I’m hoping Huang follows up Fresh Off the Boat with a book of food literature – he would be a fantastic addition to the genre – a post-millennium M.F.K. Fisher or a hip-hop Elizabeth David.