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Maybe you won’t have to for much longer

Featuring comedians Mic Nguyen and Fumi Abe, from “Asian, Not Asian”

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It’s time noodles got the respect they deserve

Last week, the New York Times announced it had appointed Tejal Rao, a well-respected Indian American food writer and restaurant critic to be the paper’s first ever California food critic.

It comes as California, one of the world’s most diverse and food-rich regions, lacks a leading voice on food. This summer both the San Francisco Chronicle’s critic Michael Bauer announced his retirement, and the LA Times’ critic Jonathan Gold suddenly passed away. Their absences create an opening for a new generation of voices.

Good critics are critical

A food critic’s role is to highlight the best and most interesting food and a food scene as deep as California’s can only get the coverage it deserves with a range of perspectives.

Janelle Bitker, managing editor and restaurant critic for the East Bay Express, told The Slant, “It’s a really exciting time to have this opportunity for people of color to finally get some of these positions… hopefully. If you look nationally it’s a very white scene.”

Critics can make or break the popularity of entire neighborhoods and cuisines. Gold was renowned for inspiring diners to brave strip malls and order off of menus they couldn’t pronounce. Los Angeles resident Kevin Lin says, “He loved the mom and pop everyday kind of restaurants that highlighted the diversity of the city. His reviews helped a transplant like me discover the real, non Hollywood LA.”

There’s a lot at steak

And it has a real economic impact. Bitker says, “A mom and pop or immigrant owned restaurant could really really benefit from a critic finding them and writing about their food and telling their story”.

Prestige is up for grabs as well. Consider, for example, why diners don’t question paying $25 for cacio e pepe, which mainly consists of pasta, cheese and pepper, but balk at paying more than $15 for a bowl of pho.

I shouldn’t have to scan the last names and photos of Yelp reviewers to find the best pan dulce, beef noodle soup, or naeng myun. Let’s hope Tejal Rao is just the first in a wave of high-profile reviewers willing to venture beyond the “Friday night date” restaurants and cover Californians are really eating.

Jessica Yi, editor, thinks the best naeng myun is at Yuchun in LA but welcomes suggestions for pan dulce and beef noodle soup
Read the whole story on Medium

NOW PLAYING: Before Crazy Rich Asians, Better Luck Tomorrow, and even The Joy Luck Club, there was Flower Drum Song—a Rodgers & Hammerstein joint set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, based on a story by Chinese American C.Y. Lee. Taking Broadway by storm and then Hollywood three years later, Flower Drum Song is chock-full of dated Asian tropes, including more than one gong and Oriental riff, and an arranged marriage straight out of China.

But this was also 1958, and Flower Drum Song had one redeeming feature: actual Asian actors playing all the Asian leads. Considering Miss Saigon failed in this respect 31 years later, this was an achievement—especially when the movie version cast Asians for almost its entire cast. which is why years later, playwright David Henry Hwang called Flower Drum Song “a guilty pleasure.”

These days, the stage version of Flower Drum Song is rarely performed, except in a revised form by Hwang. But as likely the first Hollywood production with an almost all-Asian cast, the movie’s certainly got a place in history.

— Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief, who still shamelessly hums “Grant Avenue”

Not exactly Thanksgiving

On November 11, 1620, the Pilgrims arrived in the New World escaping what they thought was religious persecution. Later, that became a whole holiday.

That's pretty much the opposite of today. For the past year, a growing number of Indians have cited political and religious persecution when seeking asylum in the U.S.

And 42 percent of their cases have been denied.

And not exactly luxury hotels

Why these requests have been denied is unclear. Several asylum seekers told the Los Angeles Times that they’d been assaulted by mobs affiliated with the ruling BJP government in India. Others said extremist groups spread rumors that they’d slaughtered cows—something certain laws prohibit.

That led them to seek asylum in the U.S. After trekking through Latin America, officials detained them, banned Sikhs from wearing their turbans and bracelets, and forced Hindus to eat meat. They gave others only one meal a day, either bread with water or a burrito.

The defense?

ICE, meanwhile, denies these claims, saying they offer turbans and vegetarian diets on request. However, Meeth Soni, co-legal director at Immigrant Defenders Law Center, says detainees told her turbans would cost $10—something they don’t have.

Though they make up a small percentage of all detainees, there are hundreds of Indian nationals seeking asylum. Ultimately, their cases rest with an immigration judge.

Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief
Meanwhile, other seekers are stuck in prison

Fumi Abe and Mic Nguyen from "Asian, Not Asian" talk Asian American masculinity and bros connecting over brunch

Comedians Fumi Abe and Mic Nguyen met in the stand-up comedy scene three years ago, and soon started making short videos and writing sketches. And though they’ve continued performing on stage, they’ve brought their jokes to the airwaves with “Asian, Not Asian,” a comedy podcast where Abe and Nguyen talk about pretty much anything they want to.

Often, those topics are rooted in Abe and Nguyen’s experiences as Asian Americans. From Yelp reviews of Panda Express to the talking points of Asian American masculinity, Abe and Nguyen frame “Asian, Not Asian” as a podcast discussing “American issues no Americans seem to care about.” That is, except for Asian Americans.

We spoke over the phone about everything from getting vulnerable with listeners to why some Asian men won’t stop talking about dating white women. Here’s a (much) shorter excerpt, and you can read the whole interview on Medium.


One of the issues you discuss early on is Asian American masculinity. And I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous when I started listening, because sometimes discussion about that devolves into “why white women won’t date Asian men.”

Mic Nguyen: Yes. Yes. So funny.

But you not only raised issues beyond that, but poked fun at that surface-level conversation. What is it about issues like Asian American masculinity that grab your interest?

Fumi Abe: I think with issues like that Asian American masculinity thing—that seems to be the only thing that people ever talk about. I think there’s so much more as to why that—there’s so many things that play into that.

For example, I find it way more interesting to talk about why the media has trouble talking about Asian people who are not kung-fu masters or teachers. You know, like there was an Asian veteran who went back to his mental institution and shot a lot of people. It didn’t really make the news, because people see the words “Asian” and “veteran” and were like “I don’t know what that is.”

So all that stuff, to me, all that stuff goes back to Asian masculinity. But solving these other problems first is more interesting and I think it’s more productive than simply whining about why you can’t get laid.

And also I personally think if today, you can’t get laid as an Asian dude, that’s mainly your fault. [laughs] Like in the last five years, I’ve noticed a significant change, and I see Asian dudes with all kinds of different girls now. So I think it’s getting better, but to your point, people love talking about that one thing for sure.

MN: Yeah, uh, you shouldn’t listen to Fumi though, because he’s got a white girlfriend, so he’s got the game, you know.

FA: [laughs]

MN: He got his. He’s out. But I think that in general, masculinity has been going through this redefinition. And I think for Asian men, who have always had a problem with masculinity as it’s been defined in the West, there’s been a little bit of a vacuum. We don’t know how to act and we end up having to “act Black.” A lot of men, like Eddie Huang, who we’re big fans of, he is masculine because he doesn’t act Asian. That’s kind of a thing.

And I think what we’re trying to do on the podcast—we’re two bros. We’re not that bro-y, but we’re kind of two bros and you can hear us, and there’s still not really a space where you hear two Asian guys talking. There’s never a time on TV where you see two Asian guys talking. That never happens, ever. That’s something unusual.

And to Fumi’s point, the Asian guys not getting white girls thing, that’s a symptom of something much bigger. And if we focus only on the symptom, it doesn’t address the root problem, and it ends up being boring. And it ends up being weird and creepy. Like you’re looking at the wrong thing, and it ends up being bigger.

What are your goals for your podcast right now, since you’ve been heading into less “Asian American” topics?

FA: I think immediate goals are to find more people who are into this kind of stuff. Just finding an audience has been our biggest challenge. Interacting with fans on Instagram and getting their e-mails, I think there’s a large population of people who this podcast could entertain. So I think immediate goals is expand our fanbase,.

But long-term goals, comedy-wise, I think we want to market ourselves as like, the “Desus & Mero but Asian version” for sure.

MN: Yeah. We were—I mean, you saw that podcast that Still Processing did?

Right.

MN: That was huge, right? There were tons of Asian American people where that resonated for them. We want to reach those people. Somewhere out there, there’s a bunch of people drinking boba and going to LA Fitness, and doing all the Asian stuff. And they need to have—they’re waiting for us.

FA: [laughs]

MN: When you’re ready, your audience appears. When you’re, you know, there’s a match that happens when your voice is strong enough and your audience is ready for it, and there’s a beautiful lovemaking session there. And [laughs] we’re trying to get to that, where we’re connecting with that audience. They’re out there somewhere. They’re looking for us and we’re looking for them. And we’re trying to get that Tinder right swipe on them. We don’t know where they are. But that’s the big immediate goal.

And down the road, obviously we’ll take over the world or whatever.

Asian, Not Asian is “a podcast by two Asian comedians not from Asia talking about American issues no Americans seem to care about.” Each week, Fumi Abe and Mic Nguyen discuss everything from race to urban myths to Urban Outfitters. New episodes release every Monday. Find Asian, Not Asian on iTunes and Soundcloud, and on Instagram @AsianNotAsianPod.

Read the whole interview on Medium

This weekend ... 📅

  • WATCH Crazy Rich Asians. Haven’t heard of it? Yes you have. Watch the movie like an Asian American, and then hop on the hype train and watch friend of The Slant Awkwafina’s interview with Jimmy Kimmel. A quick Google search will return dozens more hits for reviews of the movie, but we found this one by the LA Times particularly interesting.

  • CATCH UP WITH ASIANS WHO AREN’T CRAZY RICH. Okay, technically John Cho is probably pretty rich but he’s not in CRA—he’s in Searching, a new thriller written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty about a dad’s search for his missing daughter. Catch up with what Cho has been up to since pseudo-starring in every major blockbuster and how he feels about Asian American representation today.

  • GET YOUR FILL OF TOFU and discover its roots in American culture. During World War I, Chinese-born doctor Yamei Kin was tasked with finding suitable substitutes for highly rationed foods like red meat. Enter tofu and her deep exploration of the versatility of soybeans. Kin is the original hipster and liked tofu before it was cool—the rest of the country didn’t really catch on until the 60s and 70s.

  • GET SERIOUS WITH KPOP. At this year’s KCON (an annual celebration of South Korean culture), artists and panelists spoke out about mental health, a topic that’s rarely discussed openly. But especially after singer Jonghyun (of SHINee) took his own life last year, the community is looking for honesty regarding mental illness. Groups like BTS and Block B spoke openly about the pressures of the industry and the struggle of having your every move scrutinized by the press and public.

  • SUPPORT ASIAN AMERICAN WRITERS. Asian American Writers Workshop is based in NYC and is home to a number of up and coming Asian American writers. Check them out to discover which Asian American writers to add to your reading list, and pay a visit to listen to readings of all kinds—from poetry by Fatimah Asghar to a reading about Asian grandmas.

This week's stories are curated by Chery Sutjahjo, editor, who’s sleeping at 10pm. Got a tip, or just want to share? E-mail us at news@slant.email.

The Slant is brought to you by:

Brian Hsieh, Kevin Lin, Billy Huang, Delwin Lau, AJ Grey, Marina Cheung, Michelle Pal, Mandy Diec, Lloyd Lee, Patrick Trinh, Emily Chi, Naomi Iwata, Gloria Lin, Matt Young, Cat Xia, Crystal Shei, Sooyun Choi, Yi Cao, Meher Kohli, Ryan Ikeda, Jerome Finuliar, Abby Wang, Curtis Leung, Tracey Mantilla, Mika Kennedy, James Boo, Chris Moe, Eve Asher, Diane Lee, Angela Yang, Katherine Chin, Paul Kerr, Talisa Chang and Claire Tran, who deserve another season and another and another and another to bingeeee watch forever.

Join them in supporting The Slant on Patreon.

"We left, trying to preserve

at least memory. Our language,

like us, had no land."

— Adeeba Talukder, Pakistani American poet, from her poem "Dividing Line"

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