The passing of Anthony Bourdain was a shock to all, with many left not knowing what to do or how to react, they tried to find comfort in one of the many travel shows he created throughout his life. The general premise in almost all of them was to watch Bourdain travel the world, eat great food and meet new people. Most notably, his most famous and final endeavour being Parts Unknown, which first aired on CNN in 2013, and 12 seasons later, has won twelve Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award.
Many were thus frustrated that they couldn’t watch the travel host cracking wise on their usual streaming sites. However, Netflix has recently added all of Parts Unknown to their catalogue. Although Parts Unknown was unafraid to challenge, to be political and to make us take a hard look in the mirror, it also brought joy to many. It allowed viewers to sit back, and journey alongside someone whose only goal was to get more people to look out of the passenger window
With the luxury of travelling and meeting new people on hold during the Coronavirus epidemic, Parts Unknown is the current best bet to see the world. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best episodes of the show below.
HANOI-Season 8, episode 1
This may arguably be the most well-known episode of Parts Unknown, one that, to many, was their first-ever exposure to Anthony Bourdain.
In this episode, Bourdain travels to Vietnam, a place he has had a romantic notion for since he first read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Here, he travels on a scooter across the busy streets of Hanoi (the only way he recommends seeing the city) and intermittently stops at hole-in-the-wall restaurants to sample the wonderful flavours.
However, what the episode is famous for, is whilst on a similar trip, President Barack Obama sat down with Bourdain to have a cold Vietnamese beer and Bun Cha; a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodle served in a tangy broth. The image of President Obama and Anthony Bourdain sat on little plastic stools, with other dinners either not noticing them or pretending not to, has become iconic. There are little discussion of politics, but rather, more existential questions, of food and of our future.
(Credit Pete Souza/Barack Obama Twitter)
KOREA-Season 5, episode 1
Many of the episodes of Parts Unknown are meant to be told as a story. Bourdain loved to shirk the typical idea of a travel show host, he wouldn’t walk around a street, using multiple hand gestures and saying superlatives like ‘scrumptious’ or ‘marvellous’. Bourdain wanted to hear what people had to say, and his episode in Korea does just that. Told in reverse chronological order, it begins with a distraught hungover Bourdain, sitting at a food stall, pontificating over a shot of soju (the national liquor of Korea). ‘So we begin, at the end’ are Bourdain’s first words, as we then watch him party hard with salarymen, eat post-Korean War fusion food with a famous online streamer and get his skin nearly torn off in a Korean spa. This episode gives us not only an insight into what Korea is like, but also how one can use the simple narrative of friends and food to such a diverse effect.
LONDON-Season 8, episode 4
Anthony Bourdain has been to London many many times, not like this, however. This episode takes place in the wake of Brexit, days after the British people voted to leave the European Union. Despite his guests’ reluctance to show any doom and gloom for the camera, it travels through.
With someone who’s known philosophy is to travel and be free, the Brexit vote comes as a shock to the core notion of Anthony Bourdain. As he discusses the political elements that led to the vote, there is also a sense of comfort throughout the episode. Bourdain dines with long term friends such as food writer Nigella Lawson and chef Fergus Henderson, on warm familiar dishes that usually involve meat to be slow-roasted or fried in some form. Anthony Bourdain’s role in this episode is not to play politics in a country that is not his own, that’s never been his style. Bourdain has instead, always and especially here, focused on how he as an outsider can perceive something, instead gently prodding and questioning his guests, so that the viewer can have some form of a more intimate idea than we might have already had.
It’s a mantra that Anthony Bourdain exhibits in every episode of his shows every sentence of his books and every word he spouted; to talk is good, to listen is even better.