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Ringing In Lunar New Year with Chef Eddie Huang and Notorious MSG

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Feb 16, 2015

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player and subscribe in iTunes.

Imagine ABC made a sitcom about your life. What do you think you’d be doing right before it premiered? Slamming the network for watering down your story?

That’s what chef Eddie Huang was doing before the debut of Fresh Off the Boat, a new show based on his memoir. It’s the first network sitcom featuring an Asian-American family in 20 years.

The book is a funny, blunt, sometimes raunchy look at Huang’s growing up as a hip-hop obsessed outcast, the son of Taiwanese immigrants in Orlando. He felt the TV show replaced a lot of his story with milquetoast plots and Asian stereotypes.

But despite Huang’s frustration with the process, he ended up pretty proud of the final product. On NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, he told Rachel Martin about the first time he saw an ad for the show on TV.

"It was enough of who we really were," he says. "I still want to push more, and I will never forget where I want us to get. But as a milestone . . . it gave me hope and promise for how much further we can go."

Well this week on The Sporkful, we’re going to go a lot further. We’re celebrating Lunar New Year with some Asian Americans who are definitely not stock characters. I’ll sit down with the members of Notorious MSG, a satirical hip hop metal band from New York's Chinatown.

Their music is hilarious but the underlying emotion is serious. They’ll explain how working in Chinese restaurants helped inspire them to start the band.

"We see our brothers and sisters stuck in the kitchens, no opportunity to get out. That's their life," says front man Hong Kong Fever.

"Our music was going to be... a way to get our feelings about being kind of stuck between two cultures," adds Down Lo-Mein, the group's singer.

They walk me through my first experience with chicken feet, discuss what makes a great dumpling, and tell me why they make certain assumptions when they see a Chinese person behind the counter at a sushi restaurant.

Plus I’ll tour LA's true Chinese food mecca -- the San Gabriel Valley -- with Clarissa Wei, a young food writer who has already developed a big following. Her parents think her job is just a phase, but when you hear how passionate she is about Chinese food and culture, I think you’ll agree she’s not going to medical school.

"You have one of the richest civilizations in all of history and you're obsessed with Western culture," she says of some of her Chinese-American friends. "Why don't you embrace the Asian culture? Because there's so much to it. And I don't think a lot of people have been stepping up to the plate and really pushing that forward."

Clarissa introduces me to an amazing dessert soup made with glutinous rice balls called tang yuan:

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I liked tang yuan so much, I tracked them down back in New York with Diana Kuan, author of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook. Diana also introduced me to some other Chinese desserts for Lunar New Year: the sweet version of nian gao and laughing sesame ball cookies.

And Clarissa and I chow on whole duck:

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This restaurant place mat inspires a discussion of the Chinese zodiac:

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Plus we eat many, many dumplings. Because at Lunar New Year, dumplings = prosperity. Screw lotto tickets, I'm feasting!

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This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player and subscribe in iTunes.

Interstitial music in this episode by BWN Music:

- "When You're Away" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt

- "Quirk Store" by Nicholas Rod

- "Taul Paul" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Agree To Disagree" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

Photos by Anne Noyes Saini and Dan Pashman

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