The culinary and television world lost an icon last week with the passing of chef, writer, and TV host, Anthony Bourdain. He was a big presence, both on screen and off, with even bigger opinions on everything from vegetarian food to celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse. He was outspoken about the rights of immigrant kitchen workers and a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. His shows brought the world into people’s homes and taught them that despite what we eat, we are all not so different after all.
Bourdain did this best work on his award-winning CNN show, Parts Unknown. The premise was simple: Bourdain would travel the globe, eat good food, and talk to people, often discussing the history and politics of the region. After each episode, fans come away feeling as if they’ve come to understand another place and its people and have learned something in the process.
Parts Unknown was set to leave Netflix on June 16. However, the streaming site announced in a tweet that it was planning on keeping all eight seasons “for months to come”. Here are some of the top episodes available to stream.
Pro-tip: Don’t watch on an empty stomach.
“Jerusalem” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Some of the best episodes of Parts Unknown are the more political ones. Bourdain has a way of looking at both sides of an issue and just talking to people, trying to understand all the different points of view. The show is at its best when it is capturing the lives of ordinary people and their circumstances.
That is why the Jerusalem episode is a must watch. It’s is a tricky subject and one Bourdain handles with grace. He visits both Israel and Palestine and eats food from both places. He dines inside people’s homes. There are conversations about hope, but this is not a sentimental episode. Bourdain does not try to present a solution but rather seems to leave with more questions than answers. It is this realistic, human perspective that Bourdain brought to the world and that will be so greatly missed.
“New Jersey” (Season 5, Episode 6)
Only Anthony Bourdain could make New Jersey seem romantic. This episode sees Bourdain go back to his roots, the state where he grew up. He is joined by his younger brother, Chris, to recount their childhood spent vacationing “down the shore.” The episode shows all the different sides of the Garden State from the rundown Atlantic City to the resurgent Asbury Park and rural Pine Barrens. It’s an eye-opening view of the state for people who only associate it with MTV’s Jersey Shore.
It’s easy to make beautiful, exotic locations look enticing. It’s harder to capture what makes a place in our own country special — especially a place that doesn’t have the best reputation like New Jersey. Bourdain captures the multiple facets of the state as well as diving into his own nostalgia.
The charm of Parts Unknown is the personal touch Bourdain puts on each episode, but New Jersey is a must-see for his emotional connection to the place. The episode ends on what is now a particularly sad note, Bourdain’s musing about the future of his home state. “I’m convinced when the tide has come and washed all the greedheads away, we’ll once again be magic. I’m hoping I’m there to see it.”
“Cuba” (Season 6, Episode 1)
Cuba is a country in flux and Bourdain visited the island nation right in the midst of its change. Due to the easing of travel restrictions by then President Obama, Cuba’s borders flung open to American visitors. Bourdain spends much of the episode wondering what the country will look like in a few years and how tourism and chain hotels will change what makes Cuba what it is. As he looks forward, Bourdain also looks back at the country’s tumultuous history.
It’s an episode that mixes the old with the new, the traditional with the young and growing. Bourdain eats sushi and attends a backyard cookout where they serve pig’s head soup. We see classic cars drag racing down long stretches of road, like a scene out of a period piece. But when the drivers are asked which cars they really want to drive, they reply, “the most modern” Corvette. It is this dichotomy that makes the episode worth watching.
“Hanoi” (Season 8, Episode 1)
The “Hanoi” episode of Parts Unknown is widely considered to be the show’s best and it’s easy to understand why. The love Bourdain had for Vietnam is apparent. Some of his favorite things in life were cold beer and noodles and in this episode he indulges in both. He rides a motorbike, he lounges on an old steamer ship, and he shares a meal with the 44th President, Barack Obama. The two men discuss their memories associated with food and politics. Bourdain muses about his young daughter and his hopes for her future. The conversation is comfortable and relaxed and in hindsight a little sad.
This is Bourdain at his finest. He is thoughtful and thoroughly alive. Parts Unknown brings the world into people’s homes and here it is at its most intimate. Bourdain is sharing a place that meant so much to him with the world; a complicated place especially when it comes to American history. He never shies away from talking about these issues either, visiting the American War Museum and talking about the impact war has had on the country. If you only watch one episode of Parts Unknown, make it this one.
“Sichuan” (Season 8, Episode 3)
Since Season 1, chef Eric Ripert has become as much of a staple of Parts Unknown as the host himself. The two chefs have an epic bromance. Ripert has appeared in Bourdain’s shows dating back to 2002. The pair are complete opposites, which makes their episodes even more fun. Bourdain delights in dragging his friend around the world and torturing him. In this episode, that means eating some of the spiciest food in the world.
“Sichuan” is an episode rich with easy banter and scenes of Ripert sweating heavily over his food. They visit the largest stone Buddha in the world and have a discussion about Buddhism, which Ripert practices. They share a hot pot with a group of young locals, relishing in a meal that can typically last hours. It’s an episode celebrating friendship and food — the two things that define these two men best.
Parts Unknown seasons 1-8 are currently available to stream on Netflix.
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