Anthony Bourdain’s Food Diplomacy

I’ve spent the last few days reading countless tributes to Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer, traveller, and connector.  What a shock, what a loss.  As you can imagine, given that this blog is about food and travel, his work inspired me, as it did countless others.  Anthony Bourdain inspired me with his curiosity, kindness and sense of adventure. His were the only shows I regularly watched, and they inspired so many trips to places my husband and I would otherwise not have known we wanted to visit, and for the places we had been to, provided a sort of checklist, to see if we had shared the same experiences and what we (or he) had missed.

I never met Anthony Bourdain, and wish I had.  There’s something about reading someone’s words that makes you feel you know a person.  And the skilled production of Bourdain’s most recent series, Parts Unknown, truly brings you along on the voyage– not simply the people and places he shared with us, but his reactions and emotional journey.  And so I find myself missing this celebrity I’ve never met as much as I would an old friend.

What I loved about all of his work was that he was comfortable in his position as a person of privilege, not pretending he didn’t have it, and yet was able to genuinely connect with anyone, everyone.  It’s what I strive to do when I meet people in my work, in my travel, and in my daily interactions.  Yes, this tattooed, formerly hard-living, sometimes foul-mouthed, heavy drinking,  older white man was a role model for me.  He both acknowledged his privilege and demonstrated that he genuinely felt it was a privilege for him to sit at the simple tables of people who opened their humble homes to him to share a home-cooked meal.


“We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions, we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”


These two stills from his series The Layover (top) and Parts Unknown (bottom) encapsulate what I admired about Anthony Bourdain.  Here he is, capturing the essences of Taiwan and Trinidad:

Bourdain Taipei

Bourdain Trinidad.jpg

Photos: CNN

Note the crumpled pink tissue on that table in Taipei, and the Carib ads and (amazingly) cheongsams at the bar in Port of Spain. When he filmed episodes on the two small islands my family comes from, it felt like he knew us (even though we quibbled with what he missed!) I wish I had met him— we would have had a great conversation.

There’s no better tribute to a man who loved forging cross-cultural understanding through sharing a meal than to eat the food of the people.  In that spirit, here are a few recipes from Taiwan (my family’s heritage) and Trinidad (my husband’s homeland) that you are not likely to find in your local restaurant.

Taiwanese Wa Guei (Savory Steamed Rice Cake)

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

Trindadian Pelau

Trinidadian Doubles

“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”


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