The food world (and anyone with a T.V.) was rocked this summer with the unexpected death of celebrity chef and culinary rock star Anthony Bourdain. Though he entered the media with back to back best selling books, his fame exploded with the television series No Reservations that ran from 2005 until 2012 on the Travel Channel, earning him legendary attention and even an Emmy in 2007. Never before had T.V. seen a travel show open up with a man getting tattoos after eating with James Beard Award winners. He ate on military vessels, escaped missile strikes, and could describe dishes like you had eaten them yourself.
Parts Unknown came in 2013 when Bourdain made the move to CNN where he claims in his blog he was able to retain his voice and image. He didn’t want to be tied down to inauthentic product placement or what he considered to be manipulation of his name even though he wrote and produced the show himself. So Parts Unknown is where we see Bourdain’s storytelling creativity fully blossom. Moving to CNN allowed him to travel further to more countries, he told Adweek. The freedom to go these forsaken parts unknown gave us scenes like breaking bread with locals in Gaza and the dark side of Tokyo where he tells us in the opening scene, “you are not invited."
Bourdain taught us that traveling isn’t about staying at safe beach resorts. He ate with locals and let them create the magic moments. He bridged communities through a television screen and could make you cry looking at dim sum. It’s only right that after years of television gold we break down the episodes of Parts Unknown.
19 Hungry For More: Lyon
In truly a historic episode with both the late Paul Bocuse and our beloved host, viewers witness what is quite possibly the greatest culinary feast on television. Alongside celebrity chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud, Bourdain is taken through one of France’s most renowned food destinations that had all of our mouths watering from start to finish. There’s not one episode where you’ll see Bourdain smiling as much as this one. We could barely keep up with the feast ourselves gawking at bowls of truffle soup élysée, followed by sea bass in a mille feuille crust, then pôt au feu carried by two men holding beef shanks, flank steak, oxtail, marrow bones, and more, but we’ll stop there. The way Paul Bocuse looks at Bourdain looking at the wild hare à la royale is how we hope our future spouse might look at us while we walk down the aisle. With tears in his eyes, Bourdain called this the meal of his life.
18 Unsatisfied: New Mexico
Guns, cowboy boots, and soccer. As endearing as it is seeing Tony relive his childhood dream of playing cowboys and Indians, this episode is lackluster compared to the company it’s sitting in. Though it was interesting to see turquoise and fringe juxtaposed to hippy buddha blankets, we wanted more than gas station Frito pies - and seemingly, so did Tony. There’s a sense that people from New Mexico are fairly private, comfortable with their elk and pinto beans. Scenes of dirt roads, shovels, and construction lights tease us with alien stories but then they leave us hanging for more.
17 Hungry For More: Rome
It’s rare that a docu-series can make you feel like you’re watching a European vintage film, but in this episode Bourdain teams up with Roman filmmaker, activist, and future girlfriend Asia Argento to create one of the host’s proudest artistic moments. If you haven’t noticed, the Parts Unknown crew has seemingly mastered the nearly impossible feat of producing shows that are all aesthetically unique from one another. Each has a different way of visually telling you a city’s story. Here Bourdain got his wish of producing an episode completely in cinematic widescreen and anamorphic format. You feel like you’re in the front row of a theater watching him eat spaghetti at a boxing arena with Argento, creating what we now know were the early days of a wanderlust crush. As she leads him through her Rome, feasting on homemade fettucine and polpetti from neighborhood restaurants, and tucking into tripe at her sister's house, we don't know if our hearts were swelling because of the bubbling romance, gorgeous aesthetics, or sumptuous food. Maybe a bit of all.
16 Unsatisfied: Las Vegas
A city known for its over the top culture, we pretty much already know what we’re getting into with this one. Fake Eiffel Towers, Bobby, Emeril, and Cirque du Soleil, it’s the sort of staged authenticity that we'd prefer after a few drinks. Don't get us wrong. We love Vegas. Staining the bonafide Parts Unknown with its phony hyperculture though? We’d rather keep this place as our own forgotten bachelorette party. Even at the city’s best Thai restaurant he says, “you don’t do pad Thai here.” We know Tony. We’d rather watch his future self do it in Episode 7.
15 Hungry For More: Thailand
“This show is about food, food, food, delicious food, and food like this.” In his southeast Asia element, our host drinks, eats raw blood soup, and ends up in a hallucinated daze surrounded by - ahem - 'dancers'. Nothing says Anthony Bourdain like the raw intensity of his voyage through Thailand. Watch him gulp down lemongrass blood soup that he calls “the best meal he ever had in Thailand” and get a peck from an entertainer. With all the wild possibilities with a place like Thailand, Bourdain manages to respectfully nail down all the insanely delectable cuisine while still taking advantage of the fun it has to offer. It’s how any of us would want to see the country.
14 Hungry For More: Hanoi
Fans everywhere will attest that the Hanoi, Vietnam episode is one of the most legendary and memorable Bourdain moments mostly because of its legendary guest. Anthony and his crew had a way of touring a city with either unforgettable locals or celebrity icons. In what may be his most iconic scene of all, Bourdain and his special guest (we won't spoil it for you) eat noodles at a seemingly humble table where the two discuss past travels and the future of America. Beers in hand the duo slurp down a bowl of bún chà giving us the bromance moment we’ve always wanted.
13 Unsatisfied: Cologne
It’s not very often you hear a place introduced as ugly, but in this German town that is tired of being overlooked by the bigger more historic Berlin, we learn why the struggle is so real. Bourdain seems invested in the local beer that is noticeably served in smaller glasses than the rest of Germany and does go on a “happy place” rant about cured pork shanks, but the rest was kind of a let down. In scenes of the Cologne month long carnival, Bourdain is nowhere to be found. He laments clowns, dancing, and jesters, all of which are key ingredients for the Cologne carnival. We’d rather watch the episodes where we actually see him getting down with the locals.
12 Hungry For More: Sicily
In a weird cringe-worthy way, this episode is a favorite for so many because we can relive one of the many reasons we love Tony. His blatant lovable honesty, the way he could say what we were thinking, and the way he noticed the unnoticed gave television the unscripted authenticity it so desperately needs. Fully suited in scuba gear, Bourdain is led by his guide for a fishing tour where frozen octopus and squid are dropped in for his viewing, the hypocrisy of which sent Tony into a blind rage. How desperate were these people to impress the Parts Unknown crew that they polluted the water with dead fish? His undiluted anger last all night, despite being served a lavish multi-course dinner of local specialties - including said octopus - on his birthday. Not even heapings of homemade pasta and ancient markets could redeem Sicily in the eyes of Bourdain - though it looked pretty good to us. You have to see this one for yourself.
11 Hungry For More: Kenya
In the first episode to air since he died, viewers are gifted a crossover episode with unabashed fan and fellow CNN host of United Shades of America W. Kamau Bell who was lucky enough to have spent time with Bourdain in some of his last days in Africa. Having been before, Bourdain admits he was curious to see how Bell would react to the new world of crowds, spice, and heat. Goats heads hang from steamy markets and the two split a bowl of game for dinner giving us the deliciously morbid scene we live for. Perhaps the most touching of all though, is when the duo have a drink on a mountain top where Bell looks to Bourdain and says, “the idea that I’m sitting here with you doing this now, knowing where my life and career have come, it’s pretty cool.”
10 Unsatisfied: Shanghai
Okay we get it. Some people can totally relate to the idea of obsessed consumers running from Burberry to Chanel in Lamborghinis. Bourdain does a great job pointing out how a land of ancient culture and culinary smells is now clashing with “levels of wealth, luxury, and services” previously unimaginable - his words, not ours. His guides were millionaires serving ridiculously expensive champagne and caviar. If you’re into the materialistic mask of modern cultures rather than their stinky tofu, then sure, go for it. For the rest of us hardcore Bourdain fans, we’d rather see him curbside with some street food. In a rare moment for this episode when we chows down on ginger minced pork wontons at Er Guang Wonton, we're reminded what we love about this show that the rest of the episode is missing.
9 Hungry For More: Cuba
We’ve been waiting years for this. Actually, it’s been over 50 years since we’ve been able to peek inside the island. Even now we don’t have long to see Cuba in its frozen in time state that we’ve all imagined it to be. With the pig roasts splattering off chicharron, pig head soup tamales, and vintage cars, this unscathed tourist paradise is what any traveler dreams of. The locals and Bourdain talk in fear though about the inevitable influx of tourists and the impending doom of big corporate invasion. Yet here we are, the viewers, dying to book that trip, if only for the chicharron itself. It’s an uncomfortable, eye-opening yet necessary space to be in.
8 Unsatisfied: Bay Area
From the jump Bourdain lets his viewers know that this is not a “Best of San Francisco” episode. He filmed in the area for years in attempts to capture the restaurant mecca of America. What is now becoming an exploding city of tech, Bourdain, an undercover activist always rooting for the culinary underdogs, went to discover where the city is headed. We’re not saying San Francisco isn’t awesome, because it definitely is. We’re saying don’t watch this if you’re looking for the Bay Area food lowdown, you won’t get it. It’s one of the rare moments we see Bourdain openly express his pessimism for a place he can’t keep perfect forever. We prefer his more buoyant moments instead.
7 Hungry For More: Houston
Opening with the sound of voices speaking in tongues from all over the globe, this Texas episode gives viewers the culture shock they crave for every episode of Parts Unknown. Bourdain himself admits that he previously bought into the Texas stereotypes and was clueless about the one of America’s most diverse cities. In one episode alone he parties at a supermarket in Little India, attends a quinceanera, eats Tex-Mex inspired by cuisine from Vietnam, and rides in a Cadillac slab with Houston rapper Slim Thug. After watching other far-flung episodes that make you want to backpack across the globe, viewers from America feel a surprising pride and contentment from of all places...Houston what Anthony called, “a wonderland of the strange and diverse.”
6 Hungry For More: Iran
After years of trying, Bourdain was finally able to fill what he called, “the big blank spot” on his to-do list. He himself couldn’t believe the incredible amount of hospitality and warm welcome he received into people’s homes. He wasn’t ignorant to the atmosphere he found himself in though. “I’m going to be careful about what I say even here,” he noted. Journalists played host to him and spoiled him with bountiful helpings of koofteh meatballs filled with ground beef, dried apricots, and boiled eggs which made us crave mezze like we've never craved it before.
5 Unsatisfied: Seattle
When you watch Parts Unknown you know you turned it on for a couple reasons. Rarely is it because of your fascination with grunge music (the only thing these Seattle natives seem to harp on as their culture). It’s hard to want to understand a city that can barely understand itself. One local even says, “What is Seattle? Who is it?” We wish this episode gave us an answer. Also all the talk about Seattle being a stomping ground for serial killers is kind of weird. Granted, there are cool scenes of oysters being dumped in liquid nitrogen, but we’d rather watch Top Chef for that.
4 Hungry For More: Massachusetts
A painful episode to watch that brings everything home, Bourdain revisits Massachusetts where he spent his younger years as a dishwasher and waiter. He’s forced to look into his own past where his life in the culinary world began and also his own path to use. Walking along the coastline at the North Atlantic he reminisces and says he had his “first everything on the beach” as a 17-year-old. Unlike other episodes where locals abroad open up their world to cameras, here we see Bourdain give us a glimpse into his past over clam chowder, oysters, fried scallops, and lobster boils. There's something so pure about the joy he expresses when taking a bite of his old favorite Portuguese soup that we can't help but fall a little more in love with him.
3 Unsatisfied: Pittsburgh
As a champion for forgotten cities, blue collar workers, and places of transition, Bourdain loved watching the ambition of steel city Pittsburgh. We only wish we could love it as much as he did. Granted, we got to see the cool new chefs that are cooking up high quality food (something the city wasn’t used to for years). The question arises, however, if the food harnesses onto any Pittsburgian culture or if it's just a hodgepodge of bistro fare. It lacked the special sense of cultural identity we crave in every episode. We have faith in you Pittsburgh. This one just didn’t do it for us.
2 Hungry For More: Charleston
Anthony Bourdain had a way of picking a place on a map that you would never think to visit and making it one of the most magical experiences you could witness on TV. Charleston, South Carolina - a place that unknowingly to many people houses one of the first true cuisines of America also contains a unique portion of the diaspora from Africa on Gullah Island. All of us watched with jealousy as Bourdain chowed down soft shell crab and conch in peanut stew. As the cameras switch to the city’s fine dining scene, celebrity Bull Murray makes an appearance while plates and plates of southern cooking make their rounds between the boys. We want to watch this meal over and over. Did we mention there’s also a Waffle House scene? You've got to watch this just so you can replicate the Bourdain meal at your local WH.
1 Unsatisfied: Paraguay
What usually is a hunt for the best meal in town has transformed into a quest for a long lost ancestor in this episode. Seems interesting right? No. Maybe it was the frequent repeats CNN went through when it first aired or maybe it was Bourdain’s own flagrant disappointment when he finally realized that this ancestor he heard so much about was only a humble hat maker. Funny enough his great-great-great-grandfather was actually from France. Scene after scene Bourdain is shown trying to understand the country. “I’m trying to make sense of it”, he said. So are we - less family drama and more food please.