Fresh Off the Plane: Eddie Huang in San Francisco

Eddie Huang is pretty much always the smartest kid in the room—or, like on Monday in San Francisco, on the street.

Huang was in SF on a 24-hour layover to promote his book, Fresh Off the Boat, a memoir about growing up with Taiwanese parents in America (eventually opening Baohaus in Manhattan) that hits like a cultural curb-stomp of the race divide in America. Huang stopped by the CHOW offices to talk, and when photographer Chris Rochelle and I walked Eddie down Second Street to a graffiti alley for pictures, he stopped instead in front of Señor Sisig. That’s a food truck that hawks burritos filled with Filipino sisig—Pinoy barber Julius Arriola hat-tipped Señor Sisig in an epsiode of Huang’s travel series for VICE, also called Fresh Off the Boat.

“This shit looks pretty deep,” Huang said, rolling back the foil, cocking his head for the first bite. “I love Filipino food—it’s mad greasy, but that’s in no way disrespectful.” Huang says it greezy, like a good New Yorker should.

Huang is in heavy circulation at the moment. He did a Reddit AMA and talked with NPR. He's in GQ (the modern man's essential: a G Pen vaporizer), Rolling Stone ("the chef who makes Anthony Bourdain seem like Julia Child")—even the lifestyle food pubs Food & Wine and Bon Appétit want a slice of Eddie.

Maybe it's because Huang's critique of how America exoticizes Asians has made him a hero for a generation of Asian-American kids struggling with the standard-issue stereotype of the sexless engineering geek quietly racking up a good GPA. (“In America,” Huang writes in his book, “we’re allowed to play ONE role, the eunuch who can count.”) And when it comes to Asian food, well: America isn’t ready to give up its old stereotypes about that, either. It just dresses them up in hipster threads.

Besides the New York Times Dining section, the only food stuff Huang says he really ever reads is what’s on Chowhound. “It’s people on the ground,” he says. “Everybody there really, really cares, and everybody has an equal chance to get there. It’s more democratic.”

When Huang peeps the word “fusion” on Señor Sisig’s side panel, he takes a break from his burrito to launch a critique, though—out of respect—he says it so co-owner Gil Payumo can’t hear. “Fusion is when something gets appropriated and fused to dominant culture—that’s off-putting to the people it’s been taken from. What’s happening here isn’t fusion; it’s localized regional food. Bay Area Filipino is its own thing, like New York Jewish or New York Italian.”

Another couple of minutes and the burrito’s annihilated, a ball of foil with a few grains of rice stuck to it. Huang turns back to get a Diet Pepsi. “That was really good,” he tells Payumo. In half an hour, Eddie will be in the car again with his PR handler, headed down to Facebook HQ to spread the message of Huang, only now it smells just a little like sisig. I was sad to see him go so soon.

Photo by Chris Rochelle / CHOW.com

John Birdsall is senior editor at CHOW. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.