Anthony Bourdain is dead.
A few weeks ago, I could barely utter these words as I’ve always considered him to be the last person on earth to pull the trigger, or in this case, to tie the noose.
If I could describe him the way I had known him, not personally, but as a fan of his TV shows and books, I’d say he’s a genius. After all, he managed to make us fall in love not only with the world’s gastronomical offerings but also its cultural nuances. And to perforate through the noise of ten thousand narcissists infecting social media nowadays with syphilitic posts and still make a difference takes a special kind of ingenuity.
If someone asks you why it’s never a bad thing to sit on a small plastic stool with a bowl of pho and a can of cold Ba Ba Ba on a dank side street in Ho Chi Minh as non las on motorbikes whizz through, you’d probably mention his name one way or another.
Bourdain explored avenues and dug into cultures like no other. He was an adventurous eater as much as he was a curious traveler. And how he traveled and ate was never a product of white savior haughtiness; he was always the receptive guest, the “other” who embraced everything, including a roasted sheep’s testicle, with a good amount of respect.
Looking at one of his pictures dining with locals, he reminds me of a tattooed backpacker who survived a round of tubing along the Nam Song River while downing the deadly concoction of snakeblood and opium shake. Sometimes, I forget that he’s still a chef.
But this uncompromising personality of his is what makes him relatable to most people. He reminds us that accolades and recognition aside, it’s important to stay true to one’s self and more importantly, learn how to say “fuck off.”
What I liked most about Bourdain was his gift of storytelling. He didn’t describe Russia to me; he literally transported me from my third world futon right into that “homey” kitchen with a “Sputnik-era TV set” in St. Petersburg to savor hot borscht with shots of cranberry vodka.
His writing has hints of Hunter S. Thompson or Irvine Welsh, yet his voice is distinct and his wit, sometimes humorous and sardonic, is simply remarkable. Who else can perfectly describe the taste of a mountain potato in Japan by comparing it with a sun-dried goat rectum?
I was left speechless when I found out about his death. Though I’ve never met him in the flesh, he was an inspiration.
Though I ended those journeys with the realization that individual taste buds are undoubtedly unique, I went home with two important lessons: To embrace the different plates of the world no matter how opposed they are to one’s culinary comfort zone and that the best meal can sometimes be experienced in a tiny, ramshackled joint that can only be seen in nightmares.
But Bourdain’s most Jedi-like, sage advice has to do with how one should look at the world not according to the pages of a guidebook but with a curious yet discerning mind ready to be flipped over without warning.
He said it best, “Nothing unexpected or wonderful is likely to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.” It goes without saying that your life can change in an instant if you just get off that beaten track and dip your toes into an unfamiliar and unpredictable terrain.
Tonight, we may order a bowl of pho, a glass of beer, or eat the best meal of our lives in honor of Anthony Bourdain. But I think the best tribute we can give to him is to never stop traveling, to never stop exploring cultures, and to always share good stories and good food with the people we meet along the way. And, more importantly, to constantly keep an open mind like he did so we can get to know and understand the world around us more and, hopefully, change things for the better.