Sunday Snippet: Eddie Huang, Fresh Off The Boat

“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.

Even though I was pretty certain I had seen Eddie Huang before, I was far from familiar with his story. He was featured in one of Anthony Bourdain‘s shows, expressing the same kind of enthusiasm about great food as Tony. Little did I know at the time that Eddie Huang also had a TV program that was similar in scope to No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Eddie goes to different places, samples the local fare and investigates the local culture.

The reason why Eddie Huang came to my attention is that he is currently behind an upcoming sitcom on ABC that is semi-autobiographical in nature. It’s going to be called Fresh Off The Boat and it’s based on his childhood. It’s been many years since we last had an American sitcom centered around an Asian family; the last one I remember was All-American Girl with Margaret Cho and that was 20 years ago. You could say it approaches a similar “fish out of water” kind of story, but Eddie is much more enamored with hip hop culture, for example.

Interestingly enough, his food adventure travel show on VICE is also called Fresh Off The Boat. There have been two seasons of that show and he’s visited places like Miami and Los Angeles, as well as Taipei and Chengdu. Like I said, these shows are similar in scope to the Bourdain programs, but from a different kind of perspective. Eddie has really built up his personal brand, because his memoir is also titled Fresh Off The Boat. Maybe he just can’t think of another title.

Whatever the case, you have to appreciate his philosophy on food. Some people really enjoy generous portions. Some people get really excited about explosive flavors. But what’s more important is that sense of xiang wei. It’s a flavor is that is complex, yet light. It’s a flavor that leaves you wanting more.

It’s a quality expressed in the aburi sushi at Miku in Vancouver, for instance. The portions are decidedly small, but they are packed with complex flavors and aromas… and just as you think you have it figured out, you’ve already finished it and you want more. That is exactly how Eddie describes his experience of eating the perfect xiaolongbao dumplings at Taipei’s Din Tai Fung. They’re small and delicate, yet rich and robust.

Embedded below is the Taiwan episode where he visits Din Tai Fung with his father. Be forewarned: Eddie is no stranger to colorful language.