Asian American — not just Asian — restaurant Xiao Ye gets dinged in a NYT review & the owner swings back

I came across this story on Reappropriate, a great blog about race and identity: New York restaurant owner Eddie Huang responds to a lukewarm NYT review of his Lower East Side joint Xiao Ye on his very unapologetic and in-your-face Asian AMERICAN blog, “Fresh off the Boat” and follows up by posting his mother’s rather FoB-y note to him saying essentially, see? You deserve your bad review for not listening to me! Then CNN catches wind of the flap and interviews him.

This is interesting to me on a couple of levels.

First, the intersection of cultural values and generations is where Asian America is established, and Huang, whose restaurant serves a hip hopped-up Americana version of Taiwanese cuisine aimed at a middle-of-the-night club crowd, embodies that intersection, both in his eatery and his blog. I’d love to meet this guy.

Second, Jenn of Reappropriate brings up the interesting question of whether the NYT reviewer, Sam Sifton, came to Xiao Ye expecting “authentic” Taiwanese food and was merely disappointed at the cultural mashup that Huang apparently revels in. That makes me wonder if I’m being unfair when I criticize restaurants such as, oh, Panda Express or here in Colorado, Tokyo Joe’s, as being nothing but cultural appropriation (more to come about both these chains).

Those are also just Americanized versions of Asian fare, though definitely on a mainstream, washed-out level. Is it acceptable to me if it’s done by a brother, like Huang, than by non-Asians, who’s taking his family’s recipes and taking them further, and adding fun Americanized names to the dishes? I know, I know, the founder of Panda Express is Chinese, but you get my point. Is one legit and the other a racist ripoff?

Or does Tokyo Joe’s suck just because the food’s crappy?

Consider this the start of the conversation. Watch the CNN story above, read Reappropriate, and visit Huang’s blog — you gotta read his mom’s note to him, it’s a million Asian parents folded into one missive. Sad and funny, and spot-on true dat. Welcome to our collective life.

(This is cross-posted from my Posterous pop-culture blog)

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2 Responses to Asian American — not just Asian — restaurant Xiao Ye gets dinged in a NYT review & the owner swings back

  1. Tomoko says:

    I love Authentic Asian food and enjoy Americanized dishes (if they’re good) sometimes. But as a native Japanese, I’m sorry that many people here don’t know the differences…

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    I agree, Tomoko — I get snobby about the quality of Japanese food more than any other type. I now it’s hypocritical, because I like American Chinese restaurants and America Mexican restaurants. I’ll even eat at Panda Express and enjoy it (it’s embarrassing, I know). But if it’s fake or bad Japanese food, I get offended.

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