Anthony Bourdain’s impact in journalism, food industry and travel is immense. However, I want to pay my tribute by sharing the impact his shows had on my life. I watched the last episode of Parts Unknown on Sunday night as he made his way through Lower East Side. It was such a good episode for the show’s finale, it brought Bourdain full circle on his life. And the intro gave me goosebumps when he said: “So much happened, so much began on New York’s Lower East Side” It was a retrospective view of beginnings but I couldn’t help and be sad that it was the very last episode of a show that taught me so much about the world and myself!
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How I learned to cook?
I learned to cook at a young age, not because I liked it but because it was necessary. We were a multi-generations home: my parents, my sister and I lived with our paternal grandparents. When I was little, cooking in my household was shared between my mom and my grandparents and I enjoyed many traditional dishes. As I grew up, my grandmother passed away and my grandfather started getting old. Both my parents worked a lot and my maternal grandparents needed a lot of help because they lived alone. My mom was splitting her days between her full time job, her parents and then home with us trying to make sure my sister and I were OK.
Thus the need came up for me to help out with basic household cleaning and cooking. I learned to cook and usually did it right after I came back from school. My friends usually would hang out during that time. So even though I loved cooking, I also had some resentment towards it because I couldn’t just be free to hang out with my friends. After all, I was a typical high school teen who wanted to listen to rock and hang out with my friends!
My first introduction to Anthony Bourdain
Back in 2009, my husband and I were living in New Zealand and loving life. We loved to travel and explore the world. We definitely enjoyed a fair share of international cuisine as we ate out a lot because of our busy lifestyles. I cooked occasionally on the weekends but still preferred making my rounds over the German, Indian, Belgian and Italian restaurants few blocks down the street. We also missed our friends and life in US, so in the evenings we watched a lot of American TV. That’s how we came across a show called No Reservations which introduced us to Anthony Bourdain.
I can’t remember the first episode we watched, I can’t remember if it was a re-run of older seasons or a new episode. But I do remember I was immediately hooked!! We started recording all the episodes and adding to our bucket list countries and places we wanted to visit. As we watched more episodes, we realized how central food was to Anthony’s story telling. It was the glue that tied the whole episode together. His trips to Brazil, Argentina, South Florida, Greek Islands and Sicily are some of my most memorable episodes from No Reservations.
We got back to US December of 2009, resumed our busy lifestyles and making a life for ourselves. We bought a house and started settling in, even though we both traveled a lot for work. Few years later, as we occasionally watched re-runs of No Reservations, we came across a new show called The Layover. This show was so perfect for us at that point in our lives. We were both traveling for work, my husband a lot more than I did. Sometimes we hanged with each other home in Miami just on weekends and we both traveled back out on Monday. After watching his Miami’s layover I had to go try Garcia’s Seafood Restaurant by the river. I loved that Anthony visited couple of small restaurants to have food people eat everyday instead of visiting the luxury restaurants that most Miami residents won’t ever step foot in.
When we visited Rome, we definitely used some of Tony’s tips from his Rome episode. We stayed at a hotel far from the city’s center in a non-touristy area and ate where locals eat. Needless to say I had lots of cappucinos and Italian food!! Mamma Mia!!!
And then came Parts Unknown!
Once we became parents, my husband and I decided that it was time for me to take some time off from work/travel to be with our son. Soon after, CNN started a new show called Parts Unknown. Once I saw that it was Anthony’s show, I added it to my DVR list. My husband and I would binge watch whenever we were not sleep deprived from being new parents.
Parts Unknown to me meant so much more than travel or food. This show introduced me to parts of the world that are misunderstood or labeled one thing or another. However, Anthony with his narrative and exceptional story-telling revealed rich cultures and complex relationships between people. His down to earth style and deep conversations over food, made people more comfortable and they gave honest perspectives that you can never get from the news.
The best example are the Libya and Iran episodes. Given the political situations in these countries and rhetoric in the news, it’s almost impossible to imagine life in these two countries. But Tony did just that! He introduced us to real people and their daily life, their struggles and their thoughts about the world, their cuisines and desire to travel. He made them relatable in the most people’s eyes!
A common theme through a lot of the episodes is immigration & lives of small minority groups in different parts of the world. Besides going to the heart of this very important subject, Tony focused on how these groups kept their identity through food, customs and language. The Houston and Cologne/Germany episodes come to mind especially for this reason.
Given that my husband was born in Bolivia and I was born in Albania, we have complex cultural identities: Bolivian American and Albanian American. Our children will definitely identify as Americans but we want them to understand where we came from, how important understanding diversity is and how to appreciate other cultures. Seeing in Parts Unknown how easy that understanding came over food, I first started cooking again Albanian food at home. Then I wanted to understand Bolivian cuisine as well and I try to adapt several Bolivian dishes.
Little by little I expanded my culinary knowledge, it doesn’t come easy to remember those recipes from 20 years ago but thankfully my mom is so good at cooking & spoiling me when she comes to visit from Albania. I pay attention to the way she cooks in hopes of remembering what I used to know. It takes few trials and errors, but it’s getting better every time.
When it comes to Bolivian food, my mother in law and sister in law are great help in helping me navigate the intricate Bolivian recipes. Some of those recipes differ from city to city. Add to that that here in Miami, I can’t find a lot of ingredients needed for those dishes and I got myself more than I could bargain for:). However, I love adapting those recipes. They don’t taste exactly the same as in Bolivia, but they are close enough that my husband loves having food from his native country and my children are being exposed to new foods.
I could write about Parts Unknown episodes for hours. However, one of the most impactful episodes for me was the Lyon, France one where Bourdain has lunch with 2nd grade kids in a French school. Everything was cooked fresh in school. The food looked delicious and above all it was at a cost lesser than the lunch in American schools. My son started kindergarten this last August and I struggle with the lunches he has in school. I try to mitigate by giving him sliced fruit as snack, healthy breakfast and dinner at home. We should all strive for better food for our kids! I don’t have a solution yet, but I think that the more I cook at home, the more my children will get used to eating healthy.
As a food blogger, I try to find this perfect balance between cooking healthy and cooking delicious foods. Finding balance is very important. And I hope that one day I can tell my kids stories behind these recipes, about my family and husband’s family!! I want to be a good story teller & cook for them so they can keep coming back home for comfort when the world gets to be too big and confusing.
Links and References:
Throughout my post I’ve included some links for your reference but I’ll list them below as well if you would like to read more about the shows I’m talking about.
- Official Page of Parts Unknown – https://explorepartsunknown.com/
- No Reservations (episodes guide) – https://www.travelchannel.com/shows/anthony-bourdain/episodes
- The Layover (episodes guide) – https://www.travelchannel.com/shows/the-layover/episodes
- Wikipedia about Anthony Burdain – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Bourdain
If you would like to check out some of my recipes, please go to Recipes tab or check out some of them through the links below:
- Stuffed Peppers (Albanian)
- Potato Salad (Albanian)
- Tarator – cold yogurt soup with cucumber and dill (Albanian)
- Peanut Soup or Sopa de Mani (Bolivian)
- Arroz con Queso (Bolivian)
- Tomato Salsa – Llajua (Bolivian)