Eddie Huang Part 2: Asian Food Stereotyping, Momofuku, and the Cock Sauce Frat Boy Mentality

Yesterday, we spoke with Baohaus' Eddie Huang about everything from gua bao and Yelpers to Kenny Shopsin and Orlando, Florida. Today, we bring you the second half of our interview with Huang, in which he holds forth on subjects as diverse as Momofuku, his worst customer interaction, Asian food stereotyping, and the frat boy mentality surrounding spicy food.

Can you talk a bit more about the blog post you wrote about wanting to discourage Yelpers and certain customers from coming back to Baohaus, and about some of the businesses that you feel are destroying the Lower East Side?

The guy [Daniel Maurer] at Grub Street wrote a post that was like, "Eddie Huang hates his customers." But I have a really great core following that I love. I see them at the gym, see them walking their dogs. I like them and genuinely care about them. I don't feel like my job is done after I sell you the bun. I didn't mean for that to rhyme, but you should have a responsibility to the community. You shouldn't destroy the fucking block.

After some customers complained, I paid $15,000 for a hood vent; I listen to everything people say. With [the Grub Street post], it pisses me off when somebody's being dishonest. I can't win a battle if you're not going to be reasonable. They should be more responsible in understanding the context of what I said. When I saw these customers on weekends, they'd suck. There is a problem in the Lower East Side where people are losing their neighborhood -- as someone from Florida, I see how beautiful this place is. The first apartment I had in 2005 was on Orchard Street. I thought, this is a really cool neighborhood, and then Libation came and it was over...I don't want to become the guy who hates on stuff because I really do love a lot of things. It's not about the Lacoste shirts or stereotyping people. I think that was the mistake I made, stereotyping people, but people from the outside come in and treat everyone here like we work for them, and we don't.

What's the worst interaction you've had with a customer?

The worst one was the lady from the West Village. She was a very, very uppity lady. I didn't know she was pregnant; she didn't look it...She said, "Do you have a bathroom?" We do have one, but legally, we're not allowed to let people use it -- they can't walk through the kitchen because it's against code. But this is the mistake of being honest. I told her we do have a bathroom, but we can't let people use it, and she says, "You're going to tell a pregnant woman she can't use the bathroom?" I told her that I would tell any woman, but unfortunately I'm telling a pregnant woman you can't use it, and you should bring it up with Mayor Bloomberg. She said, "Are you being smart with me?" and threw her hot tea on me and said, "This is bullshit service, what kind of fucking restaurant doesn't have a bathroom?"...She left, and her husband nodded "sorry" at me, and I'm, like, standing here with hot tea all over myself in the middle of service...There's a strange sense of entitlement to the food.

My dad's favorite restaurant in Taiwan growing up was this little old guy who'd rigged up a hot dog truck to sell this kind of Taiwanese chicken noodle soup. He had a bunch of bowls, and once his bowls were done, he was done. He didn't wash his bowls, but said if you want a bowl, wash it and bring it back -- if you want the food, help me out. It's a great story, but it wouldn't fly here because there's a feeling that the customer is always right. I think people would enjoy it a lot more and get better food at more reasonable prices if they didn't treat us like slaves. Speaking of prices, you've written about how everyone expects Asian food to be cheap, but don't hesitate to pay $3 for a cupcake, which costs very little to make.

Melissa's Cupcakes, that's highway robbery, the worst deal in the city -- you pay $1 for a cupcake the size of your thumb. I think [the expectation of cheap Asian food] is a stereotype -- it's not even a racial thing. In every culture you have to deal with these stereotypes and expectations. Part of breaking it is to support people like myself who are breaking the mold. I'm selling Niman Ranch pork. You don't have to go to Momofuku to get it, you have it below Houston and I'm going to charge you a dollar less than them and it's probably better. I don't know if I should say that, but I'm being honest.   What do you think of Momofuku?

I think David Chang is pretty cool. I really like David Chang, and I feel like he attracts a lot of hate because a lot of people have built him up, but if you read what he writes in the Momofuku cookbook, he's so down to earth. His restaurant has been helpful for breaking that mold of Asian food. I think there's various people that do it -- this second generation of Asian immigrants, we're going to change the face of Asian food as you know it. The Asian cultural scene in five years won't be the same. I don't think you'll see those same arguments of, "I could get this in Chinatown." For change to occur, what else has to happen within the Asian food community?

I think part of the problem is we stereotype white people -- we say, oh, they're not going to eat fatty pork or food with bones in them or they want food with MSG, or they won't eat what's authentic or what we eat at home, they don't like the texture of gelatin. Every culture gets stereotyped for their food things, but I think the problem is we're too scared. We like to follow the status quo: Chinese restaurants all have the same menu; they copy each other. I have Asian people, especially ladies from the massage parlor next door, who will come in and say, "I want to open one, too, teach me." You have 10 generations of family cooking -- why are you copying me? Asians ourselves, we need to stop copying. You see a lot of Chinese people with banh mi restaurants -- I think if we stop trying to be trendy and just offer food in honest setting, we'll grow a lot more. That's what I'm going to do at Crackhaus.

Speaking of white people and spicy food, you've written about how eating spicy food has become a vehicle for foodie one-upsmanship.

I feel like it comes back to food insecurity. Another stereotype we had before was white people can't eat hot food, they can't take it. Now they want to counter it by saying, "I can eat more hot food than you." People at the restaurant will say, "I can take it, so make it hot." We have no hot sauce, and they're really disappointed. They want to counter this insecurity by eating as much hot food as possible. Like Adam Richman. That guy's an idiot. I like him, I do, but there's no real respect for the craft of food. It's like, big, fat, and spicy, like frat food. I do think there's this frat boy mentality of "I can eat more hot food than you."

That kind of mentality also often seems to apply to the consumption of anything involving pork.

Me and my brother were talking. We were watching No Reservations, the episode about obsessions, and were like, why is Tony Bourdain so crazy about pork? We ate it growing up -- if you talk to Asian people, red meat, that's expensive shit. Beef was like Jordans for me because they were too expensive. [Laughs] I've spent half my life chasing down Jordans.


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