Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Villagers Strike Back

So, I was talking to Emery (my brother) about the difference between shitty asian fusion and the new modern Asian places we like. Its been going on for a while, but for the first time, I'm seeing good ones. For every shitty place doing tempura super orgasm volcano dragon eel surprise hand rolls, there's a Kyo-ya, Basta Pasta, or Bonchon. But, I don't see this as fusion and that's what people need to understand. Food is cultural and just like any movement, things have to evolve. Some evolve out of struggle and some are just random unexpected mutations.

If I have to break it down in simple lowest common denominator terms: 80s - consumerism, 90s - grunge/hip hop backlash-struggle stories, late 90s - puffy suits/boy bands/.com boom/more consumerism.. Early 2000s you see the hipster - someone who consumes identity and culture (its been done before, but now in a more literal ironic bullshit way). Everyone hates the hipsters and hipsters don't even know they're hipsters, but one thing I do know is that the hipster is dead (Can you really argue? your culture is so formulaic that people have sold it as KESHA LOL. Its like when Asian fusion was so bad subway came with the teriyaki sub). I feel we're in the midst of a turn with the economic crash. This period to me is about "The Villagers Strike Back". Very Edward Said-like... I know.

The 10s will be about second-generation immigrants or the gentrified turning the tables outside the ivory tower. Just look at the things that made waves the last few years: MIA, Obama, Asian Street Food (ramen, banh mi, pork buns), Slumdog Millionaire. For once, instead of being victims of appropriation, we will become the appropriators. The villagers strike back. We have now either grown up in America or consumed "Americana" as 3rd party viewers who are not totally accepted, not totally alienated. We weren't full participants and as spectators we have a different view.

Minority artists are now showing people how America looks to us. If one song sums it up, its Nas and Lauren Hill - If I ruled the world. We're finally getting to paint that picture and I feel its because of the recession. People are seeing the failures of corporate America, the false dreams that B-School, Law School, or any school for that matter sells us. Its all a ruse. Our parents worked their asses off to help us pay for colleges/grad schools that led us astray. They want us to think the Ivory tower is the only way. You have to go to college, then it became you have to go to grad school, you know what, I wish I just read more books in HS and saved my money as a bus boy instead of chasing Jordans that my mom wouldn't get me as a kid. Small business is what can turn the culture of this country around.

A lot of us have been doing this for a minute subconsciously and just out of necessity. A lot of the things I cook came out of an organic American experience. Cheeto fried chicken happened because I didn't have sweet potato starch and wanted to make Taiwanese fried chicken, so I used cheeto crumbs. Its authentic localized/modern Taiwanese food. My dad started making ketchup fried rice. Then I saw Korean people were doing it too. Its not some wack fusion attempt that some gwai lo who went back packing in Asia cooked up. The food comes out of a REAL experience. I'm sure in 3 years, it will be played out but I will never be bored of it because its my story. Others will probably see and consume it as a fad or write it off as just the new trendy thing, but take a look and let it sink in. There's something real going on right now.

We're as post-modern as the hipster, but without the self-referential bullshit and pessimism about where our culture is going. Hipsters make fun of the way their culture works, yet secretly continue to engage in it. Whereas, us second-generation immigrants take pride in our shit. Yes, Chinese culture has its flaws (AKA the belief you're dog shit if you're not a doctor/lawyer/stock trader) yet we want to evolve the culture rather than make fun of it and pretend it's not where we came from. We don't deny our roots, we use them to grow. We poke fun at FOBs, but those FOBs are our parents. They are a part of us. There's a reason being called a twinkie or an oreo is an insult. Post-modernism was supposed to bring an objective point of view so people could see the flaws and make improvements, not become a tactic for people to deny responsibility and try to look edgy/hip by being above all of it. Hipsters are cutting their own legs off and trying to replace them with peglegs from other cultures. That's where this need for cultural voyeurism comes from. They're trying to deforest our culture to build legs for themselves, and it's not gonna work. Now we're the ones building it on our own roots.

(This was my first post I wrote in collab with Emery!)


  1. I don't hate all hipsters...I know you do....haha

    I think the word "hipster" has been distorted by outsiders to where it now refers to entirely different subset of people then what it used to. Original "hipsters" probably hate modern day hipsters as much as you do.

    I would just say that you are still pretty unique in how you embrace your culture in its tradition and how it relates to the overall cultural mix of America. If you look beyond NY, what do most Asians do....they either hang out with own or they try to be white. You, I think, are part of a trend in creating a forum for those people to not feel forced into either category, but to rather embrace the natural cultural mix they belong too by just being in this country. But, again, for every 1000 or so twinkies, there is probably only one Eddie Huang, so I don't see this changing any time soon.

    Also, even though we're getting closer and closer to the point where minorities will outnumber whites, a lot of white people just don't give a shit about culture and trying new things. Given the current political climate, this might even get worse, cause there seems to be such a cultural fight by far-right whites, where they want to essentially demonize everything that is non-traditional white culture.

    The one advantage Asians have surprisingly now I think is their race; we've gone from where they were the shit race even below blacks, to where Asians are probably the least threatening of all. Then again, if motherland China goes all crazy, this will change quick.

    With food, I think there is a big difference between those creating fusion based on a real authentic cultural experience, and those creating it as a profit-endeavor. Fusion places started popping out in NY in the early 2000's, and the whole point of the fusion label was to generate more money, and to somewhat elevate it from the standard stereotype of Asian food. Fusion just meant doubling the menu, to in essence try to cater to as many people as possible.

    I think that the business aspect will remain at the forefront, cause the number of people who are in this business strictly for the money, far outweigh those who care to share their authentic life experience, like you.

    Culture on a national scale is only valued to the extent that it brings profit. Outside of that, only those within a specific cultural group have the power the even try and perpetuate cultural trends.

    And don't forget, the Teriyaki Sub remains one of subways best sellers...haha

  2. Yo Eddie my friends and I saw you on Food Network and thought you were hilarious. I ran into your blog by Googling the results of the competition (curious to see how you did). I only saw up to the round where you placed second with the Cola bun recipe. How'd you do for the remainder of the competition (if you don't mind me asking).

    I also got another question in regards to entrepreneurship. I am considering a business idea regarding selling art. I want to have a website down the road. Through your blog I noticed that you have a clothing site. How hard (and how much money) did it cost you to develop the site?

    Much respect,


  3. I lose in the second round but its all good! Its hard to develop the site, try kickstarter to generate funds. My girlfriend Ning designed the baohausnyc.com site, hoodman.tv, tonkshop.com, and many others so if you need help let her know. Ning@baohausnyc.com