Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, Part I

Walking Into a Bookstore

Monday, June 21, 2021

Three years ago, the world learned Anthony Bourdain had died in Kaysersberg-Vignoble, France.  At the age of 61 he took his own life and departed this world he had travelled, explored, and chronicled.  He is celebrated as a chef, author, and travel documentarian.  A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in 1978, he became executive chef, in 1998, at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan; wrote his first book, Kitchen Confidential in 2000; and went on to host food and travel TV shows from 2002 ‘til his death on June 8, 2018, in his hotel room while on location filming an episode of the CNN program Parts Unknown.

Anthony Bourdain June 25, 1956-June 8, 2018) Chef, Author, Travel Documentarian
(Peabody, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)
Although the Brasserie Les Halles had closed in 2017, Bourdain’s fans paid tribute to him after learning of his death.
(Lenina Libra Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0)
Anthony Bourdain signing books, 18 November 2007.
(Neeta Lind, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)
Anthony Bourdain filming an episode of “Parts Unknown” in Porto, Portugal in 2017. (Taste Porto, Creative Commons Attribution-share Alike 4.0)

Why is Anthony Bourdain noteworthy???

Well, David Klion, writing for The Nation that June, may have said it best.  “Bourdain understood that the point of journalism is to tell the truth, to challenge the powerful, to expose wrongdoing.  But his unique gift was to make doing all that look fun rather than grim or tedious.”  Bourdain appreciated the value of traditional (or peasant) foods.  He not only sampled and enjoyed, but praised, the quality of freshly prepared street food of other countries.  He once said, “There are a lot of practices from the developing world that I find personally repellent, from my privileged Western point of view.  But I don’t feel like I have such a moral high ground that I can walk around lecturing people in developing nations on how they should live their lives.”  He had a point.  He seemed to understand that cultures will, of course, have differences; but the very human similarities make us all more alike than different.  The Singapore Hawker Culture is a case in point.  According to Bourdain, “New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Singapore is the city that never stops eating.  There’s something for everybody, and Singaporeans love their food, and they’re refreshingly not snobby about it.”

Roving Raconteurs visited the Lau Pat Sat Market in Singapore in 2010.
The array of food is amazing and it all looks good.
And then again, sometimes not so much!!!
The hard part is making a choice!!!
The fun part is discovering new flavors and textures!!!

So, just what is the Hawker Culture?  

Good question; and so is—where did it come from and what does it represent?  Well, Singapore was a bustling port city in the 1800s, attracting migrants from China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other lands. They all brought variations of the comfort food they grew up with and cooked them using locally available Singaporean ingredients and techniques.  And then, entrepreneurial souls took to the streets to sell the food.  The Chinese hawkers would carry their mobile kitchens on a bamboo pole across their shoulders with the ingredients and utensils needed to prepare hot meals “to go.”  The Malaysian hawkers sold fruits; the Indonesians brought those flame grilled meat sticks that we all know as satay; and the Indian hawkers provided sweets, cakes, and jellies.  The street scene bustled with activity, colors, aromas, and flavors!!!  But by the mid-1900s, sanitation and cleanliness became an issue.  Newly independent Singapore, with an eye to becoming a business hub, decided to clean up its act!!!  The street vendors were required to obtain licenses and relocate to certain streets, lanes, parks; or to permanent centers provided by the government.  Cleanliness, organization, and convenience were at the forefront.  The Hawker Culture was born.  Street food became mainstream.  And the Food Court concept took root all over the world.  The similarities are comforting.  Just dwell for a moment on the thought of “fast food”!!! 

Chinese Soup Seller Trading in Singapore circa 1880. (Science Museum Group, in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post [archive] Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.)
Chinese vendors c.1900
(Leiden University Library, public domain)
Penang street vendors 1928
(The Federal Rubber Stamp Co. (Penang-Ipoh-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International)
Hawker stall area, Smith Street, Singapore, 2018
(Bahnfrend, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)
Korean fast food.
(CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0).
When it comes to food, there is a universsal kinship!!! (Lunch near the DMZ in Korea in 2014)
Now, compare an Asian food market to any modern mall food court. This is The Mills at Jersey Gardens food court.
(qwesy qwesy, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0)

So why write about Anthony Bourdain now???   

Funny you should ask!  The other day, while walking through a bookstore, the book, World Travel:  An Irreverent Guide came to our attention.  It was just published, posthumously, in April 2021.  Conceived and outlined by Bourdain before his death, it was completed by Laurie Woolever (his assistant and co-author of the book Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook) as a tribute to her friend and collaborator.  We found the book compelling because many of the places featured in those 445 pages are places where, we too, have explored and eaten.  We’ve eaten from food trucks; stood in line at windows for hand-held food; had coffee at tiny cafes; and dined in elegant surroundings.  It is always, always an exciting, educational, and fun experience!!!

The very first chapter of World Travel: An Irreverent Guide highlighted Harry’s Café de Wheels in Sydney, Australia. This is what Bourdain wrote: “Curried beef, a heaping scoop of mashed potatoes, a volcano crater full of mushy peas, and an eruption of brown gravy.  Come on, you know you want that.  Look at that:  a volcano of love.  This is one of those things you just gotta do in Sydney.”

Tiger Pie is the signature dish at Harry’s Café de Wheels.
Harry’s is located at the corner of Cowper Wharf Roadway and Dowling Street in the Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo.
Begun in 1938 (with a hiatus during WWII while founder Harry “Tiger” Edwards served in the Second Australian Imperial Force). Today, it is a Registered National Trust member.
Elton John is only one of the many, many celebrities who have made the trek to Woolloomooloo for a meat pie!!!

But wait, there’s more as Bourdain continues to chronicle his adventures around the world. He does so alphabetically by country.  And now, because we are booked on two upcoming World Cruises, we have run to the photo albums to follow along with Bourdain and Woolever’s World Travel.  We are looking for new places to visit.  And there is the bonus of reliving prior adventures.

Cambodia, especially Angkor Wat, is a magical, mystical place. The sunrise at Srah Srang is breathtaking. Bourdain said he gave up taking photos because, “…how could any lens capture the scale, the grandeur of a kingdom that…inexplicably crumbled…”
After viewing the sunrise, and on your way to Angkor Wat, stop at the market in Srah Srang for a quick local breakfast, packaged to go.
Rich, robust coffee to go!!!
Yes, it works. Coffee in a baggie, with straw! !!
Nothing like a jolt of caffeine to get you well fortified for the visit to Angkor Wat…
… well as Ta Prohm, where the jungle is claiming the ruins!!!
Bourdain would wander the Temple Street Night Market in Hong Kong for its markets and street food, grit and gristle.
Restaurants line the Temple Street Night Market. You crowd around small plastic tables, sitting on folding chairs, to enjoy generous servings of noodles, soups, seafood or grilled meats. All washed down with a cold beer!!!
Or contrast the bustle of the Night Market with the charm of coffee or tea in the lobby lounge of the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel while contemplating the day’s adventures!!!
Then compare that to the grace and calm of Tea Time at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai.

Please join us as we continue to follow Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever’s World Travel in part II.

The Exploration Resumes Soon!!!

2 thoughts on “Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, Part I”

  1. I love your “Rovings”… reading one leads to reading another and another. Lovely! We have Lucas and Evie with us and we’re having a wonderful time.

    Sent from my iPhone



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