HARD-WON WISDOM

Anthony Bourdain: Find Great Local Cuisine

The host of No Reservations explains how to find—and enjoy—a lively local food scene anywhere on earth

Anthony Bourdain
(Courtesy The Travel Channel)

If there's one man who's made a business of pushing culinary boundaries, it's Anthony Bourdain. His now-classic television series, No Reservations, begins its seventh season this month, continuing the intrepid eater's global quest for unforgettable food. From Beirut to Kerala, the chef and author has tried his share of stomach-churning specialties (iguana, fermented shark), and picked up smart strategies for vetting street carts, scouring morning markets, and more along the way. His most lasting lesson? That local food is the best gateway to extraordinary travel.

What's the first thing a traveler should do after hitting the ground?
If you're in a place like Vietnam, Thailand, or Spain—with a strong food culture—go to the morning market, where the average merchant and home cook do their buying. You'll get a quick idea of what everyday consumers enjoy.

When you film, you have a lot of resources at your disposal. How can regular travelers find the kind of folks that you learn from?
A lot of the people that we reach out to are bloggers. It's relatively easy: If you type in, say, "Saigon street food," chances are, you'll eventually come across somebody who has dedicated himself to that subject. Then it's just a matter of reaching out—which is easy, given the way we communicate now.

What do you say to those who might be intimidated by street food?
Street stalls are in the business of feeding their neighbors. You're far more likely to be poisoned by a big hotel chain buffet. I mean, if no one drinks the water in a particular country, you certainly shouldn't either. But a crowded food stall where a lot of locals are eating something that doesn't look very familiar to you? That's the good stuff. And in a way, the filthier the place looks, the better; clearly they're feeling pretty confident about their food.

Is there a destination you think is underrated right now?
Beirut. It's a thrilling, wonderful place. It feels like a European Miami but much better. Better food, nicer people, better all-around city.

Have you ever gotten really sick?
Twice in 10 years, and it wasn't a surprise. Simple diarrhea is another story; it's something you just have to be prepared for as a traveler. You bring your appropriate medications, but it's hardly the end of the world. And I always try to remind people: Leave yourself open to the perfect meal by leaving yourself open to the occasional really bad one. The best kind of vacation is one where everything goes marvelously and memorably wrong. Those are the incidents you laugh about 20 years later.

No Reservations airs on the Travel Channel Mondays at 9 p.m. EST.

 

 

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Food Fight!

Bourdain lays five great rivalries to rest.

HOT DOG: Chicago vs. New York
WINNER: Chicago—"As a New Yorker, I hate having to admit it, but Chicago has the best hot dog in America."

BARBECUE: North Carolina vs. Kansas City
WINNER: North Carolina—"It's so minimalist—dressed with only a little bit of vinegar, salt, and pepper. It's hard to argue with that."

TACOS: Mexico City vs. Los Angeles
WINNER: Mexico City—"Tacos should be soft. I don't think I've ever seen a crispy taco in Mexico—or nachos. That's not authentic."

PIZZA: New York vs. Chicago
WINNER: New York—"I think even our ordinary, 'utility' pizza is better than anybody else's."

BURGER: Los Angeles vs. New York
WINNER: Los Angeles—"I have a soft spot for In-N-Out Burger. I always make sure to go."

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