I’ve left this blog in cobwebs for awhile, but it’d be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a post to the person who inspired me to explore the nuances of foods and cultures.
It’s obvious to those who know me how much Anthony Bourdain meant to my passion for food and travel. And I’m not alone. The outpouring of love and grief since his passing last week still reverberates. His genuine, witty, deadpan humor and the way he embraced people and their cultures can be seen and felt with every episode, no matter what network. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and that’s what made him endearing. He had a way with words on screen and on paper, penning some great books that I know have recently topped the bestseller list on Amazon again since his untimely passing.
It’s painful to think of what demons he had been trying to overcome, but I hope he has found peace and that his ashes get sprinkled in the country he so loved, Vietnam.
While these episodes are mostly from the earlier Bourdain days, here are the top five episodes that to me, embody who Anthony Bourdain was and how he experienced food and cultures:
QUEBEC (No Reservations: Season 2, Episode 4)
Truthfully, I don’t remember what happened much in this episode. Tony goes on some crazy adventure to hunt seals with the local Inuits in Quebec (I’m sure PETA was up in arms about that one). But what stood out to me most in this episode was when he sat in the kitchen with the locals who had just caught a seal. They were dividing up the meat for the family meal — a feast! The elderly grandma smiled and offered Tony, as their honored guest, the most precious part of the seal, to them — the eyeball. And Tony graciously took it. He knew what it meant to those people to offer him their best, and he ate the eyeball without qualms.
KOREA (No Reservations: season 2, Episode 7)
I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched this episode, but I loved the juxtaposition of Tony’s stoic “just give me a beer” character with Nari, the Korean intern who coaxed Tony to experience her motherland with her. I love all things Korean, and it was hilarious to see Tony try to immerse himself into the Korean culture — making kimchi, going to the sauna, eating sannakji, and being dragged to a norebang (karaoke — Tony’s personal hell).
BEIRUT (No Reservations: Season 2, Episode 12)
Season 2 of No Reservations was a particularly fruitful season for the show (all my favorite NR episodes just so happened to be from this season). This episode actually didn’t explore much of Beirut, as the crew was trapped inside a hotel, shielding themselves from warfare. But this is where we ultimately see Tony cook again and turn to food and cooking in times where everyone needed comfort. I loved seeing that side of him and the behind the scenes as the crew basically fled back to the States.
LOS ANGELES (Parts Unknown: Season 1, Episode 2)
This episode literally hit home. How excited was I to see my hometown featured as the second episode on Tony’s latest show? While Tony’s since visited LA many times, I love this episode because he keeps it real and visits Koreatown — my neighborhood when I last lived there. He sits down with David Choe and talks about things that are very real for those of us growing up as children of immigrants in LA. He and Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ discuss the LA riots, which I also lived through.
THAILAND (Parts Unknown, Season 3, Episode 7)
“To be fortunate enough to be able to visit Thailand, to eat in Thailand, is a deep dive into a rich, many textured, very old culture containing flavors and colors that go far beyond the familiar spectrum. Given our limited time on this earth…you don’t want to miss ANY of it.”
While Tony has visited Thailand many times, I recall receiving so many messages from friends alerting me to this episode. Tony visits Northern Thailand, where I spent a brief period of my time in college studying Thai (the irony — I’m fluent in Thai), but really daydreaming of what to eat each day. This is the episode where I’m introduced to Andy Ricker, whose command of the Thai language as well as Northern Thai foods never ceases to amaze me (visit Pok Pok in Portland and you’d agree).
I loved that Tony resurrected memories of Chiang Mai for me and even introduced me to new places that I had the opportunity to try on my last visit to the city.
Thank you, Anthony Bourdain, for igniting that love of food and travel in so many of us. You’ve left an indelible mark on how I want to experience the world, as I’m sure you’ve done for many.