Notes & Quotes: Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

The following are my favorite quotes from Eddie Huang's Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir.
  1. Xiang wei is the character a good dish has when it’s robust, flavorful, and balanced but still maintains a certain light quality. That flavor comes, lingers on your tongue, stays long enough to make you crave it, but just when you think you have it figured out, it’s gone. Timing is everything. Soup dumplings, sitcoms, one-night stands—good ones leave you wanting more.
  2. My mom was the youngest and never followed rules in the family. She enforced them on everyone else, but she never followed them herself.
  3. I think my mom is manic, but Chinese people don’t believe in psychologists. We just drink more tea when things go bad.
  4. I don’t think people realize how fucking weird Christianity is if you’re not raised around it.
  5. When you washed your hands, they had hand towels so you didn’t have to wipe your face with the towel your brother wiped his balls with ten minutes ago. For real, if you are a broke-ass kid, you are wiping your face with your brother’s balls.
  6. From a young age, that single event, my grandmother’s unbinding, taught me to appreciate education and challenge conventions—just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t flip it over, look around, poke at its flaws, and see it for what it is yourself.
  7. 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.
  8. Respect your parents, respect your family, speak Chinese at home, take off your shoes at home, be polite at other people’s homes, don’t borrow money from people, but if other people need it from you lend it to them, as long as it’s inconsequential. Don’t fight, but if someone calls you a chink, fight.
  9. There’s nothing worse than someone who got shit and can’t recognize other people don’t.
  10. By the time I hit seventh grade, I wasn’t the same anymore. My mom noticed, too. The complaints from teachers went from “Eddie needs to stop telling jokes” to “Eddie purposely threw a basketball in another student’s face when he wouldn’t let him play.” I didn’t take shit from anyone at this point. I only had one rule: don’t pick on people who were already being picked on.
  11. I didn’t need Howard Zinn to know Christopher Columbus was a punk-ass stealing from colored people and I let it be known.
  12. Instead of being singled out and laughed at for being Chinese, I was being laughed at for totally sucking at football. It was a relief.
  13. Other people couldn’t compete. They were playing a game but I treated it like life and death.
  14. People say kids always tease and that it’s an innocent rite of passage, but it’s not. Every time an Edgar or Billie called me “chink” or “Chinaman” or “ching chong” it took a piece of me.
  15. We didn’t talk like the other kids, but we still had things to say.
  16. He respected his dad for how far he’d come, but didn’t want to eat off his pops.
  17. There isn’t a God in the sky that pulls the string. I told myself that there is something bigger than us but that it was egotistical and presumptuous to personify what that was.
  18. I remember not having money, I remember having money, and neither had a bearing on who I was as a person. It affected how others saw me, but not how I saw myself.
  19. When you feel like you're the only one in the world going crazy, it’s probably not you, it’s them.
  20. It wasn’t enough to be right; you had to know how to argue.
  21. If you really wanted good employees that would have your interests at heart, they needed to buy in. You needed people who wanted to grow with your business and see themselves as valuable members on the team.
  22. Very important lesson every good cook learns early on: master salt.
  23. Fuck countries and boundaries; you can call me international.
  24. He loved it ’cause everything was half off after 11 P.M., but I couldn’t subject myself to the shit. I don’t do coupons or Reeboks. Life is too short to half-step.
  25. It’s not about rounding up all the seasonal ingredients you can find, it’s about paying close attention to the ones you already have.
  26. Patience, attention, and restraint are the keys to good cooking.
  27. “The welfare of the poor is of course a serious problem that affects the condition of the nation, but it’s debatable how to solve the problem while properly incentivizing people to participate in a capitalist society. You don’t want a situation where your tax dollars are incentivizing stagnant behavior.” READ: I don’t care about poor people and I’m assuming that everyone on welfare is some single mom with five kids who keeps having them to get more money on her EBT card.
  28. Chinese people questioned my yellowness because I was born in America. Then white people questioned my identity as an American because I was yellow.
  29. I was finally “authentic” to white people, and it made me realize it’s all a trap. We can’t fucking win. If I follow the rules and play the model minority, I’m a lapdog under a bamboo ceiling. If I like hip-hop because I see solidarity, I’m aping. But, if I throw it all away, shit on my parents, sell weed, pills, and strike fear into unsuspecting white boys with stunt Glocks, now I’m authentic? Fuck you, America.
  30. It would suck if you looked at my recipe and never made your own, ’cause everyone has a beef noodle soup in them.
  31. NEVER EVER EVER back down if you’re right. If you have evaluated all the perspectives, gone around the round table, and come back around with the same opinion, then walk right up to the offending party and tell ’em why you mad.
  32. That was the answer. You can’t idolize and emulate forever. At some point, you gotta cut the cord and go for dolo.
  33. No one wanted the stereotype of an ignorant white dude to represent them and white people policed themselves.
  34. To this day, someone tells me to go back to China at least three times a year and I live in downtown New York.
  35. I realized that if I wanted to see change in the world, I need to make dollars first.
  36. Shortsighted kids didn’t understand that we voted with our dollars. Instead of supporting the brick-and-mortar stores that started the culture, they would try things on at stores and then cop online.
  37. Some of us understand how powerful self-deprecation is, but others want no part of it.
  38. I tell people all the time. Whether it’s a girl, a skirt steak, or a record, you know in the first five seconds if it’s a hit.
  39. That is one of the more interesting things about food TV. It’s very difficult to separate race, culture, and food.
  40. When my dad had a steakhouse, everyone questioned whether a Chinese person was qualified to open a steakhouse. We had to have white people front like the chef and owners. It was not OK for my dad to sell steak, but white people cooking Asian get more attention than the people in Chinatown who actually know what the fuck they’re doing.
  41. Restaurants are gateways into New York’s neighborhoods.
  42. When I opened Baohaus, one day we switched purveyors for red sugar and customers noticed. I never thought anyone but myself or Evan would care, but people complained. I didn’t want to switch, but our old purveyor just ran out of stock. I liked how we all took ownership in the city, its culture, and its food.
  43. People who don’t understand something need poles to grasp, but those who truly love and understand something through experience don’t need those training wheels.
  44. When Chinese people cook Chinese food or Jamaicans cook Jamaican, there’s no question what’s going on. Just make it taste good. When foreigners cook our food, they want to infuse their identity into the dish, they have a need to be part of the story and take it over. For some reason, Americans simply can’t understand why this bothers us. “I just want to tell my story?!? I loved my vacation to Burma! What’s wrong with that?” It’s imperialism at work in a sauté pan. You already have everything, do you really really, really need a Burmese hood pass, too? Can we live?
  45. If you like our food, great, but don’t come tell me you’re gonna clean it up, refine it, or elevate it because it’s not necessary or possible. We don’t need fucking food missionaries to cleanse our palates. What we need are opportunities outside kitchens and cubicles.
  46. My entire life, the single most interesting thing to me is race in America. How something so stupid as skin or eyes or stinky Chinese lunch has such an impact on a person’s identity, their mental state, and the possibility of their happiness. It was race. It was race. It was race. Apologies to Frank Sinatra, but I’ve been called a “ch!gg@r,” a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a pawn, and a chink; that’s life. I am obsessed with what it means to be Chinese, think the idea of America is cool, but at the end of the day wish the world had no lines.
  47. Ironically enough, the one place that America allows Chinese people to do their thing is the kitchen. Just like Jewish people became bankers because that was the only thing Christians let them do, a lot of Chinese people ended up in laundries, delis, and kitchens because that’s what was available.
  48. You can’t be clowning people who are actually doing things if you aren’t even trying.