Travel Lens: Anthony Bourdain’s World

Television host, author, and former executive chef Anthony Bourdain has licked his plate clean all over the world, from soup dumplings in Shanghai to piranhas in Peru.

The New York City native’s CNN show, Parts Unknown, heads to locales such as South Korea, Madagascar, and Scotland during its fifth season. Bourdain’s busy in his hometown, too: He plans to open an Asian-style hawker market in Manhattan this fall.

Here’s a look at the world through his unique lens (and appetite):

Hannah Sheinberg: In your opinion, what’s the world’s most underrated destination? Why?

Anthony Bourdain: Uruguay is an underrated destination. Montevideo in Uruguay—that’s to a great extent undiscovered. Everyone from Argentina knows how cool it is because they fill the place up during the season, but other than them, the rest of the world has yet to catch on. It’s a very laid-back place, the people are really nice, the beaches are incredible, and there’s great food. Tough country for vegetarians, though.

Which city has it all, and why?

Tokyo. I mean, if I had to die mid-meal anywhere, it would be Tokyo. If you were to ask most chefs if they had to have house arrest for the rest of their life in one city and eat all of their meals there, just about everyone I know would pick Tokyo.

So, if you were to die eating mid-meal in Tokyo, what meal would you want to be eating?

Definitely Sukiyabashi Jiro, Jiro Ono’s place. It’s pretty amazing.

Russ & Daughters opened its doors to New York City in 1914. (Photograph by Tyler Metcalfe)
Russ & Daughters opened its doors to New York City in 1914. (Photograph by Tyler Metcalfe, National Geographic Travel)

When someone comes to visit you in New York City, where’s the first place you take them?

Honestly, I often take them out for yakitori at one of a couple of places I like—either Torishin or Yakitori Totto.

If I’m recommending a place, I send people to Russ & Daughters or Barney Greengrass because deli is something uniquely great that we do in New York, better than anyone else, by my estimation.

For high-end, I’ll send them to Le Bernardin or Marea.

If you weren’t living in New York, where would you want to call home?

I’ve thought about it a lot; I ponder what it would be like to live in Sardinia or [somewhere else in] Italy. My wife is Italian and she has family there—even places to live if she wanted to.

But I’m kidding myself. I’m a workaholic, I love my job, and I think I’m hardwired to New York, so as much as I’d like to spend time elsewhere, I’d be deluding myself if I thought that I’d ever retire to a hilltop in Tuscany.

But, if everything went wrong in my life and I ended up alone and drinking too much, then I’d probably head to Vietnam.

What made you want to open a hawker market in NYC?

Pride and envy.

I’ve always been bitter that we don’t have the kinds of hawker centers that Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong have. We’re supposed to be the greatest city in the world and we don’t have that kind of a food option. Given the opportunity of creating a space like that, I jumped at it.

Do you have any tips for navigating the street food scene, regardless of where you are?

Are the stalls busy? Are they popular with locals? Are they moving product? Those [observations] are key. Hawkers and street food people are not in the business of poisoning their neighbors. That’s a bad business model.

Often you’ll see a place selling exactly the same thing right next to another place that has no one there. There’s probably a reason for that. Those are just good rules of thumb.

If I’m in a place where the water is not good, I’m not going to eat a lot of green stuff. Room-temperature organ meat is something that, in a tropical climate, I might avoid.

Other than that, if [the stall is] busy, I’m eating it. Sinister street tacos, I’m there. I’ll eat just about anything in India if the place is busy. They may be washing the plates in the river right next to me but I don’t care; I’m eating it.

What’s the most memorable dining experience you’ve had while traveling?

I had one of the last meals at elBulli [a Michelin three-star restaurant in Cala Montjoi, Spain, that closed in 2011] and that was pretty emotional. Everyone in the restaurant that night knew history was happening that minute. Half the people in the dining room were in tears.

And, of course, eating with [legendary chefs] Paul Bocuse and Daniel Boulud at Bocuse’s restaurant [L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, near Lyon, France] was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I never dreamed I’d have.

In the fifth season of Parts Unknown, you’re heading back to Beirut, Lebanon, where you and your crew got caught in the middle of a conflict in 2006. What made you decide to go back?

I felt that there was always unfinished business. I was having an extraordinarily positive time there until the war broke out and I felt that there was, there is, and there will always be a much more interesting, much more multidimensional, much more positive side to show of Lebanon.

Anthony Bourdain on location in Beirut (with the Lebanon chapter of the Harley Davidson Owners Group) as he films "Parts Unknown." (Photograph by David S. Holloway, CNN)
Anthony Bourdain on location in Beirut (with the Lebanon chapter of the Harley Davidson Owners Group) as he films “Parts Unknown.” (Photograph by David S. Holloway, CNN)

It’s a very complex, uniquely incredible place—it’s one of my favorite cities—and for all of its problems, and there are many, I think it’s a place that people should go and enjoy themselves.

I’m fascinated by it and everyone on my crew loves the place, so to go back and tell other aspects of that story—I’ll do that at every opportunity. It hasn’t been examined anywhere near as caringly and as carefully as it deserves.

Which destination surprised you the most?

Iran, for sure. The people you meet, the mood, and the streets are very different than Iranian foreign policy and the Iran we have to deal with on a geopolitical level. The reality is that it’s tough there, but there’s a very different Iran out there that most of us don’t get to see. [Experiencing that firsthand] was very confusing and exciting.

How do you and your crew find the balance between “being in the moment” and “getting the shot” while you’re on location?

The whole show is very subjective, so we’re always trying to make people feel the way I felt about a place. Some might say that’s a very manipulative process, but it’s a show with a point of view, so I don’t delude myself that we’re journalists.

Did traveling for work change the way you travel for vacation?

Yes, very much. I tend to stay put for vacation. If my family’s taking a lengthy vacation, it’s on a Long Island beach, and I’m driving there and I’m not moving. I’m letting my seven-year-old daughter make all of the major decisions about what we’re doing. You know, are we going to the beach today, or not? Are we having hamburgers or hot dogs? I’m as close to a vegetable as I could be.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in your travels?

I’ve seen a lot of stuff that I might have at one time called strange, but at this point—I don’t know. I’ve had dinner under a bouquet of human skulls; I guess that was pretty strange.

You recently professed your love for California’s In-N-Out chain. What’s so great about it?

It’s not the best burger in the world, but it’s a fast-food chain that treats its employees well, works efficiently, and serves you a reasonably healthy, freshly made, decent-quality burger that makes me very, very happy. It’s a not-so-guilty pleasure.

Hannah Sheinberg is an assistant editor at National Geographic Traveler. Follow Hannah on Twitter @h_sheinberg.

Comments

  1. harvey
    kingman,az
    January 27, 2016, 8:02 am

    where can i find out more about hawker market,when it will be open etc. good reason to visit nyny and to meet Tony. maybe a grand opening event.

  2. Buzon
    Australia
    May 21, 2015, 7:03 pm

    Some three years ago Anthony Bourdain did an episode on Uruguay. It was a little unusual because he took his brother along. They were trying to find information on a relative that had migrated to Uruguay from France over a 100 years ago. Although they were unsuccessful in their quest, the episode had a very funny scene. Anthony and his brother ate a “parrillada” (a traditional selection of grilled meats). When they finished their massive serve they asked for more to the astonishment of the cook!

  3. John
    Texas/OK
    May 21, 2015, 9:49 am

    I too am an “old line cook” and have been a fan of Tony’s ever since I read Kitchen Confidential the first time. While I fall a bit further right on the political spectrum than he does I don’t let that bother me. His insight and ability to travel well are what makes his shows so addicting. And being a SoCal native I do miss In-N-Out (about the only thing I miss about LA).

  4. Theresa
    Swansea IL
    May 20, 2015, 7:24 pm

    I think Anthony Bourdain is a breath of fresh air for Americans. He lets us see other parts of the world through what we all like to do, EAT. I think that’s beautiful! It gives me hope for our world.

  5. Edward Palmerston
    Bethesda, MD
    May 20, 2015, 2:07 pm

    I like Bourdain’s TV shows but some of his suggestions are difficult to swallow though. Recommending Marea in NYC as a high-end place is weird, to say the least. Marea belongs to a much larger group called Altamarea which owns a zillion resturants all over the world and this makes Marea more a part of food-chain than an upscale place. I think that NYC offers a lot more than this particular restaurant.

  6. Adrienne
    NJ
    May 19, 2015, 11:36 am

    My son and I are hooked on Bourdain and his shows. Whenever he is home from college it is the first show he wants to watch. I also loved his books – what a fascinating life he has had so far!

  7. R Bassri
    Klang
    May 19, 2015, 5:19 am

    Anthony Bourdain is a cool guy. I would love to switch places with him anytime.
    He mentioned Kuala Lumpur. Thank you for the free publicity.

  8. Aaron
    May 19, 2015, 3:54 am

    “And yes, Donnie, we could go to the In-N-Out Burger…Some burgers, some beers…Our troubles are over, Dude.”

  9. Sandy
    California
    May 18, 2015, 5:46 pm

    I’m a huge fan of all of Anthony Bourdain’s shows. But ” Parts Unknown” is extraordinary. The photography is breathtaking on every level. Some of the best travel filming ever. Mr. Bourdain’s slant on the place, people and the politics adds a deeper insight than other travel shows. I went to Vietnam because of one of his shows and was not disappointed

  10. B. WOLLAK
    May 18, 2015, 8:59 am

    WHO LIKES FOOD…BUT EATING UNDER WATCHFUL EYE OF tv CREW IS NOT EXACTLY A SPONTANEOUS ACT. rESTO OR STALL CHOSEN HAS BEEN CAREFULLY VETTED, RESEARCHED.

  11. Keith
    Ohio
    May 17, 2015, 8:51 pm

    I love how Bourdain has such interesting opinions and lays them out so well. His shows are never boring and I could listen to them without the video.

  12. C L Couch
    Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (USA)
    May 17, 2015, 4:36 pm

    I recently heard someone from Iran speaking about her country the way Bourdain speaks above. It’s a nation of people who want to enjoy community and, in fact, enjoy being neighborly. It’s the governments and extremists that we see from outside. The inner life of Iran is friendly and hospitable. Thanks for sharing the comments above about Iran!

  13. C.M. Hopewell
    Toronto, Canada
    May 17, 2015, 8:29 am

    Anthony Bourdain made a comment about Jerusalem that was so accurate, true and insightful. I visited Jerusalemn in 1960 and the same comment was true then that he made recently that people you meet often have preconceived ideas of who you are and are unable to take you at face value. Anthony, try politics. I think you have a future there!

  14. Sally McMullin
    May 16, 2015, 10:23 pm

    The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has a great exhibit “Ferran Adria Notes on Creativity Visualizing the Mind of A Master Chef” that enhances enjoyment of Adria’s restaurant, elBulli.

  15. Nazeeh
    Santa Barbara
    May 16, 2015, 7:28 pm

    One show and I was hooked. Ive been a fan since the beginning. His comments on Beirut are spot on. So glad he is going back to get the real story. I cant wait to see the city, the people, the night scene and the of course the food.

  16. don zeimantz
    tucson az
    May 16, 2015, 5:10 pm

    Bourdain is the best i wish i had his job, i do travel a fair amount myself, it cool to watch the where i have been it is cool he alway give a positive outlook where ever he is producing a show i know that must hard knowing what i know about these countries. people are great! not that much hate in the world just too much politic India South Africa etc.
    Good man

  17. Juliette Vries
    Unalaska, Alaska
    May 16, 2015, 4:46 pm

    Enjoy the travel/food reviews and more over like how Anthony treats everyone with respect and doesn’t talk down to people. And of course his wit.

  18. Sarid
    USA
    May 16, 2015, 3:00 pm

    Its enjoyable traveling with Anthony B because he goes where the locals go and gives us a chance to experience the life of each locale as the ordinary citizens do. His sly observations keep us laughing and open our eyes to places many of us will not get to experience on our own.

  19. Danièle
    Oceanside
    May 16, 2015, 2:45 pm

    Anthony Bourdain: He is truly the best. I love his TV shows/documentaries on the world of cooking and mixed subjects.

  20. beverly
    Boston
    May 16, 2015, 2:01 pm

    I love watching Anthony explore different parts of the world while eating through cultures/ countries/ and meeting fascinating people. Would follow him on any global eating trip.
    He has GUTS/HUMOR/ and PERSONALITY

  21. Sharon
    Chapel Hill, NC
    May 16, 2015, 12:52 pm

    Great interview. I love that he is genuine, open and thoughtful on the show and in this interview. I’m a big fan. I learn so much from him and Parts Unknown.

  22. Richard Soares
    Connecticut
    May 16, 2015, 12:46 pm

    RAW, REAL, AND EYES WIDE OPEN !

  23. Gail Ruther
    Tucson
    May 16, 2015, 12:26 pm

    I love travel….the next best thing is watching Anthony go places I may not make it to. To be candid, respectful and awestruck are his trademarks. And his eating adventures surpass anything I would try. Continue your journeys so we may enjoy.

  24. jan
    United States
    May 16, 2015, 12:24 pm

    No words can describe Anthony Bourdain. ….have enjoyed over the years. .the narrative on our human lifestyle -culture – on why we may exist on this planet
    thank you for all we have seen & learn thru your eyes

  25. Gary Smart
    Glendale, Arizona
    May 16, 2015, 11:14 am

    Tony Bourdain rocks! I have been following him for about 8 years now and there is no one in the world I would love to eat, drink, laugh and pal around with more. He and I are about the same age and I would give anything to travel with him with one week to any destination! Definitely a guy’s guy!

  26. Marta Metscher
    North Carolina
    May 16, 2015, 10:38 am

    My whole family loves watching Anthony Bourdain. He brings us to the cultures and places that we will probably never get to experience ourselves. This is unfortunate because after watching an episode of Parts Unknown, we all want to visit and experience all the places and things Mr. BOURDAIN has shown us. He is always full of wit, candor and what seems to be unprejudiced descriptions when describing his adventures. Love all the shows but especially the Iggy Pop/Miami episode. Anthony seemed giddy talking to his self described idol. Many more…We’ll be waiting!

  27. John
    Gulf Coast
    May 16, 2015, 10:18 am

    Bourdain, like Keith Olberman, sometimes says things that irritate me…but, as I do with Olberman, I always tunr in when I can. They are stimulating and informative.

  28. Felipe Verde
    Austin
    May 16, 2015, 9:19 am

    I’m not sure if I’m hungry but I’m gonna eat anyway just in case.

  29. Lorean
    Truckee,CA
    May 16, 2015, 8:51 am

    I’m an “old line cook” and I truly enjoy Tony’s point of view and his kitchen sense of humor. It is wonderful to see foods cooked using the same techniques all over the world. The ingredients vary from country to country,but the process of making a meal for your family stays the same.

  30. maudene fruehwirth
    United States
    May 16, 2015, 8:47 am

    I agree with EVERYTHING already written.
    When Anthony’s name is mentioned my husband and I watch, listen and enjoy
    Especially loved the show on Croatia – hope for another.

  31. Gibb
    Boston
    May 16, 2015, 8:36 am

    Bravo! Great interview. His show is quite possibly the best on television. Thoughtful, insightful, beautifully shot and produced, “Parts Unknown” always brings a unique perspective to often overlooked corners of the world…and the man can write!

  32. Rosa
    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    May 16, 2015, 8:25 am

    Que bueno poder volver a un cocinero que ama la comida típica de cada país y nos muestra sus costumbres.

  33. Brooke
    http://passportcouture.com
    April 29, 2015, 2:17 pm

    What I love about Anthony Bourdain’s show is how brings in culture, politics, and local everyday life through food. This interview is no exception to how he explores and views the world. Great read.

  34. Alicia
    San Diego
    April 27, 2015, 5:39 pm

    Yay for season 5 and for Anthony’s love for our in-n-out burger!

  35. Paul Blevins
    United States, FL
    April 27, 2015, 9:43 am

    Nice interview Hannah. You are very lucky. Anthony is an awesome dude!

  36. Bruno B @ Geeky Explorer
    Barcelona
    April 27, 2015, 4:43 am

    So interesting to have a perspective on travel through the food, it says a lot about a culture of a country! Particularly loved the tips on street food!

    http://www.geekyexplorer.com

  37. Katia Rossomme
    Arizona
    April 24, 2015, 10:02 pm

    Have you been to Belgium?
    Have you been to Cape Town ? Cape View & Hermanus

  38. Mark roopnarine
    Guyana
    April 24, 2015, 9:39 pm

    I’m a huge fan of ur show , every Sunday I look forward for the adventures n to learn new culture . One day I’ll gonna visit those place u went to .

  39. Caitlin
    April 24, 2015, 6:47 pm

    Cheers to Vietnam

  40. Macy Starr
    Fredericksburg, TX
    April 24, 2015, 6:31 pm

    I Love Tony Because:
    …says it like it is.
    …respects people’s Mothers.
    …frequently uses euphemisms I grew up hearing.
    …mentions his daughter and his wife with love (cynical sometime…but still love)
    …the ability to live vicariosly through him (good and bad)
    …shows us great food, amazing food, awesome food!
    He has a soft heart and a wicked though process!

  41. Edward
    April 24, 2015, 6:04 pm

    I’ve been a fan since “A Cook’s Tour” and will continue to read/watch anything Anthony Bourdain is involved in.