Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bourdain's New Book

Time Magazine has 10 questions for Anthony Bourdain on the occasion of the release of his new book Without Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach.

Question Number 1:

What's the worst thing you've ever eaten?

Fermented shark in Iceland. They celebrate their hardy Viking roots by eating shark that has essentially rotted and is then marinated in lactic acid for six months. There was also the warthog rectum in Namibia. Steer clear of that.

H/T to Lady with the Black Dogs


Matt Mullenix said...

I love his books but have decided I'm not such a fan of the shows.

I did like an episode of "No Reservations" featuring a Brazian cook entertaining Bourdain and friends in her home. It was sweet, and obviously a very good time.

Others have been uneven, almost pointless---is he a writer or a shock jock or a chef or a misanthrope? I guess the answer is, Yes. :-)

mdmnm said...

I've only watched a few episodes of "No Reservations" and it does seem pretty uneven. I was very surprised at how uncomfortable Bourdain was when asked to slaughter a pig for a feast, I think it was in Vietnam. Somewhere in a jungle, anyway. They gave him a spear, showed him where to put it- all he had to do was shove it in the trussed porker. He did, but appeared to be very unhappy, which surprised me given his previous career of dealing with meat and his often stated enjoyment of pork and "nasty bits". I didn't think he'd be squeamish.
The cooking done by the Bushmen in the Namibian show (the warthog rectum) was startlingly basic- everything was pretty much just thrown in the coals, the ash and sand brushed off, then eaten.

Steve Bodio said...

He's a good writer but definitely a city boy so hasn't killed or skinned much-- theoretically pro but not much experience, hard to gain naturally in your forties (though he happily shot rabbits in England a few years ago).

Read a recent interview and it would seem he is burnt out on the show and celebrity and wants to move on (haven't seen it). Maybe it shows.

mdmnm said...

I hope to catch the show where Bourdain shot rabbits- it'd be interesting to see.

Matt Mullenix said...

This topic we're skirting maybe deserves a post? We all know there's a difference--speaking sort of in defense of Bourdain here--in killing in the abstract, and out of context, and killing within the natural sequence of events leading to it.

Bourdain's premise forces him to come in at the very last minute of a long process of hunting or trapping (however it was this pig came to possession), and in front of a camera, kill an animal he knows nothing about.

Maybe call it "carnography." It's a theme in several of these shows featuring people eating native foods or doing "tribal" things. Much of the discomfort of the hosts is, IMO, an inevitable result of being an outsider to the process.

For death and killing to make sense and to be pallatable by any thinking person, there has to be a legitimate context. You have to earn it and accept the consequences. It's complicated, which I know your all know...

M.L. Miller said...

Writers like Bourdain and Michael Pollan obviously are coming at hunting, killing, etc from a different place than I am.

But they have important perspectives. I'll take theirs any day over the ignorance and absurdity such as that displayed by the writers discussing T.H. White (see Fretmarks blog).

It may be inconsistent and weak, but I admit that I am much more uncomfortable and squeamish about slitting poultry throats than shooting essentially the same types of birds. Shooting (and neck wringing wounded birds) is not something that makes me squeamish. But I'm uncomfortable with offing tame birds.

I grew up around poultry raising but since a young age I just have not liked the whole head chopping scene.

I also loved to trap as a kid and would recommend it to any young person, but I absolutely hated the moment when I had to put a .22 in the trapped furbearer's head. I am far too sentimental to do that anymore.

I think if we are honest we all have different levels of comfort/discomfort with killing, what we kill, how we kill, for what reason we kill.

The tricky part is to figure this out for yourself without becoming moralistic about it. And also not being completely relativistic either. There are ways of killing that are wrong.

David Quammen explored this intelligently in his esssay on hunting lions with Don Thomas.

I have no business posting on this topic given the caliber of people who write and post here but just thought I'd share my two cents.


mdmnm said...

Matts Mullenix and Miller,

Absolutely agree! Especially with MMiller's comment on killing some domestic critter (like the trussed pig Bourdain was asked to spear). That is a whole different thing from hunting or pursuit and I'd think anyone would feel differently about it. Still, I think that's why I was a bit surprised by Bourdain's reaction- it was just a job, a part of the process. I can't imagine anyone liking it, but it's one of those things you do. "Here, come help with dinner."
MMullenix's point is well taken-"Hi, glad you could make it, welcome to the village. Now come right over here, see this pig? Here: shove this spear right in that spot" would set any of us back, I think. For that matter, Bourdain did do the deed.
To sort of repeat myself, though, I guess I thought that, as a guy who was pretty intimate with the different forms of food, he'd react to it more as a job or part of the process, rather than get very upset. I figured his reaction would be kind of matter of fact, but then, hey, I don't know the guy and certainly didn't get to see the whole context.
That sort of stuff'll keep me watching the show, though.

Reid Farmer said...

I've seen quite a few of the shows and have generally enjoyed them. I think I probably had lower expectations than you guys and sort of appreciated the fact he didn't take himself too seriously.

Two of the shows have really stuck with me for reasons that have little to do with food.

First was a show where he traveled along both sides of part of the Texas - Mexico border. Bourdain was shocked (!) to discover that Anglo Texans who live near the border really enjoy and understand Mexican food, liquor, and customs and that (gasp!) many of them even speak Spanish. I am continually amused by how provinicial many New Yorkers are when they go to other parts of this country. Here's a guy quite at ease traveling in foreign countries who's flummoxed when Texans don't fit his stereotype.

The second was a strange show where Bourdain and his crew are trapped in Beirut when the Israelis invaded Lebanon in their dust-up with Hezbollah last year. He was plainly terrified (who wouldn't be!) at the prospect of being trapped in the middle of a war in a foreign country where Americans aren't the most popular. Then Mr. Sophisticated Cosmopolitan gushes at how great America is when a detatchment of Marines shows up in landing craft to take them to safety.

mdmnm said...


As someone who grew up (in part) on that very same border, albeit upriver of where that show was filmed, I, too, was amused at the Texas/Mexico show. I also got a kick out of the homage to "El Mariachi" in the opening and closing scenes.

PBurns said...

I don't think I will EVER need anyone to tell me to stay clear of warthog rectum. Funny as hell though :)