It’s fitting that Eddie Huang’s follow-up to the bestselling Fresh Off the Boat—adapted into a TV series—opens as he phonetically transcribes a Charlie Parker sax riff. Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China is a foodie travelogue and comic tour de force, but it’s also something of a word-jazz concerto.
The setup is simple: Feeling pressured by his success, Huang ventures to Chengdu to cook with street vendors and dig further into the roots of the food he’s known for. He also plans to fly his girlfriend out and propose.
Huang’s hip-hop patois infuses his writing, whether he’s describing a bout of chili-induced diarrhea (and there are several) or exploring the difficult family dynamics that shaped him as a young man. He captures the pressures of the kitchen, which are even greater while he’s in China, since as often as not he’s cooking in a converted closet, battling chili fumes along with carbon monoxide.
Huang’s romance takes some unexpected twists (on his way to propose he is almost left behind at a rest stop where he’s once again paying for his gastronomic bravery), but Double Cup Love has more to offer than that. The rooftop parties and underground clubs, chewy intestines and all that swagger reveal a family story that’s tender at the core.