I devoured Kitchen Confidential when it came out, but oddly, I’ve never watched more than a few minutes of any of Anthony (“Tony”) Bourdain’s tv shows–I prefer reading about food and travel (and, until last week when my daughter gave me one) I do not own a tv. (I occasionally watch online though). After reading this book, I doubt I’ll go in search of any of Boudain’s tv shows, but I would be I might read more of his word. His style is not mine. It’s more Bobby Knight than I’d like–especially around food. But he certainly knew good food and exciting travel.
At the time of his death in 2018, Bourdain and his “lieutenant,” Laurie Woolever, were at work on the project of telling about people, places, and most importantly, food he had encountered over his twenty years of making travel and food tv programs. Unfortunately, they only got to have that one meeting. Tony ended his life and left Laurie with the idea to finish the project. Instead of Tony writing about places and experiences he’d loved, friends, coworkers, and relatives have contributed prose and memories. Tony’s words, drawn from his television shows and writing, make up the balance of the book.
In this world tour, I enjoyed all of his stops, but I was especially drawn to two places–the first of which is Salvador in Brazil. I was taken in by the interesting sound of the taste of a caipirinhas [a lime juice-based cocktail with sugar cane “spirits”] and for the acaraje. What’s not to like about this:
“[A] paste a batter, a falafel-like wad of smushed-up black-eyed peas, seasoned with ground dried shrimp and onions, deep-friend till crispy and golden, in some chili-spiked dende oil [red palm oil]. On top you got your catapa which is, sort of, a shrimp curry paste, and your tomato salad, your friend shrimp, your cararao frito. A must.”
As Bourdain points out in his tv show [transcript] the slave trade was very big in Brazil. You can certainly tell that just from the description above of the acaraje. Black-eyed peas [“cowpeas” in some parts of Africa], red palm oil, dried shrimp? How much more West African can you get? But you are eating it in South America. Love that whole picture. Wash it down with a caiprinhas. which to me evokes memories of Malwai and Cathay, a sugar cane “spirit” that could knock over a Teamster with its kick.
The second most compelling portrait was of Barcelona:
“Outside of Asia, this is it: the best and most exciting place to it in the world.”
That’s a pretty bold statement even for as bold a guy as Tony was.
“The simple, good things of Spain that most Spaniards see as a birthright…’How can ham be this good?! How can something that comes in a can be that terrific. Simple things–an anchovy, an olive, a piece of cheese. Really really simple things, the little things that you see every day here–that’s what’s cool about Spain.'”
I love everything about this statement–simple food that lends itself to daily life, to visiting with friends. Food that fills you up but doesn’t weigh you down. Sign me up!
There was no place in this book I wouldn’t want to see and experience. I must admit, though, that shark’s live and various types of tripe do nothing to my taste bud, but do make my gag reflex kick in. Ok, so I’m not as adventurous as Tony–not many of us are. But to eat my way through all the versions of wonderful Piri-Piri chicken in Mozambique, or sample street foods in India or Singapore. Those would certainly be amazing meals.
As for the book–it isn’t nice to criticize a posthumously published book. But, this, in essence, was a copy-and-paste of a dead man’s tv orations, padded out with words from a woman who was his assistant and with whom he wrote a cookbook. While Laurie Woolever’s prose was wonderfully descriptive and does set the scene well, I must say I was underwhelmed by this repackaging of Tony. When Laurie was asking herself if the world really needed this book, she should have listened to her gut saying, “Probably not.” Tony’s vision for the book would have been much better as it would have been populated with his planned essays on places, food, experiences, and more. Bourdain’s larger-than-life personality does well on the tv screen. Transcribing those words spoke, shouted, or muttered into the camera in a specific context, is just not great reading. Nonetheless, it is still a decent addition to contemporary travel literature for those who want a super-quick read. [“How thoroughly passive-aggressive can she be?” I hear you asking! LOL]
World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever