A guide to some of the world’s most fascinating places, as seen and experienced by writer, television host, and relentlessly curious traveler Anthony Bourdain. Anthony Bourdain saw more of the world than nearly anyone. His travels took him from the hidden pockets of his hometown of New York to a tribal longhouse in Borneo, from cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, Paris, and Shanghai to Tanzania’s utter beauty and the stunning desert solitude of Oman’s Empty Quarter—and many places beyond. In World Travel, a life of experience is collected into an entertaining, practical, fun and frank travel guide that gives readers an introduction to some of his favorite places...
Publisher: Ecco; Illustrated edition (April 20, 2021) Hardcover: 480 pages ISBN-10: 0062802798 ISBN-13: 978-0062802798 ASIN: B08W55Y998
It was never my intention to be a reporter, a critic, an advocate. It was also never my intention to provide audiences with “everything” they needed to know about a place—or even a balanced or comprehensive overview. I am a storyteller. I go places, I come back. I tell you how the places made me feel. Through the use of powerful tools like great photography, skillful editing, sound mixing, color correction, music (which is often composed specifically for the purpose) and brilliant producers, I can—in the very best cases—make you feel a little bit like I did at the time. At least I hope so. It’s a manipulative process. It’s also a deeply satisfying one.
—ANTHONY BOURDAIN, 2012
Did the world need another travel guide, and did we need to write it? In March 2017, when Tony and I began to discuss the idea for this book—an atlas of the world as seen through his eyes (and the lens of television)—I wasn’t entirely sure. He was ever busier and more prolific, with a publishing imprint, an interest in a travel website, and several film and writing passion projects atop his demanding TV career. With so much content out there and in the works, I sometimes felt that we were careening toward “Peak Bourdain.”
I had, however, thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing a cookbook (Appetites, published in 2016) with Tony. We met in 2002, when I was hired to edit and test recipes for Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, his first entry in that category. I started working as his assistant (or, as he liked to say, “lieutenant”) in 2009, and over the years I’d become involved with various editing and writing projects in addition to the more ground-level tasks of an assistant; I wasn’t about to say no when he asked if I’d like to work on another book with him.
We worked well together. I’d spent enough time in daily correspondence with Tony to have a good sense of the way he’d choose his words and set his rhythm. He wrote nearly impeccable prose, but on the occasion when it needed a bit of tidying or fleshing out, I was able to do that, I think, without detection.
The publishing business being what it is, and Tony’s impossible schedule being what it was, it was nearly a year from that initial conversation to when our work on this book began in earnest. Our first order of business was to sit down and brainstorm what would go into it—the places, people, food, sights, markets, hotels, and more that had stuck with him, without aid of notes or videos, throughout nearly twenty years of traveling the world in the service of making television.
One spring afternoon in 2018, I sat across from Tony at his dining table, in the Manhattan high-rise apartment he had lovingly styled into a reasonable facsimile of a suite at his favorite Los Angeles hotel, the Chateau Marmont (see here). He’d picked up smoking again, a number of years after quitting; he’d been talking earnestly about a plan to stop, but in the meantime, in response to complaints from his neighbors, he’d recently installed an industrial-strength smoke-eater machine, of the kind and caliber normally seen only in casinos and bars.
I’d chosen my seat, under the ceiling-mounted contraption, rather poorly: while Tony chain-smoked and free-associated for over an hour, recalling best-loved dishes and hotels and people, the machine’s powerful vacuum sucked the smoke across my face and into its maw. I left the apartment smelling like a late-1990s bar crawl through hell, but in possession of an hourlong audio recording in which we’d laid out a blueprint for the book, a window into what had shaped his understanding and appreciation for some of the world’s most interesting places, as he tirelessly explored and documented them.
After this conversation, Tony went back out to keep exploring the world for his television show Parts Unknown — Kenya, Texas, Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Indonesia—while I started to track down old episodes, began to painstakingly transcribe the relevant bits, and wrote lists of questions. My plan was to get a few chapter outlines completed and hand them to Tony, to make sure we were on the same page, and to get him started on filling in the juice, the essential Tonyness. Only, I never got a chance.
If I’d known that that single meeting would be the only one we’d have about the book, I would have pushed him for more specifics in those places where he’d said, “Let’s come back to it,” or “See what you can pull up.” It is a hard and lonely thing to coauthor a book about the wonders of world travel when your writing partner, that very traveler, is no longer traveling that world. And, to be honest, in the difficult days and weeks after his death, I once again found myself asking, “Does the world need this book?”
Of great comfort in the immediate aftermath of Tony’s departure, and even now, more than two years later, is the steady chorus of admiration for what he accomplished while he was here, and the expressions of deep sorrow over the loss of him, from many corners of the world. The sheer magnitude of his cultural impact became clear to me only after he died.
Maybe the world could use another travel guide, full of Tony’s acid wit and thoughtful observations and a few sly revelations of the mysterious contours of his battered heart, stitched together from all the brilliant and hilarious things he’d said and written about the world as he saw it.
We had initially planned for Tony to write a number of essays about specific topics that moved him—his abiding love of France; the countries in which he was no longer welcome, by decree of one irritated government or another; the eccentricities of various European palates; a specific onsen outside Kyoto that was so hushed, luxurious, and polished that it remained his favorite, even after many return trips to Japan.
He was gone before having the chance to write those essays, so I have recruited a number of Tony’s friends, family members, and colleagues to contribute their own collected thoughts and memories about places they experienced with Tony. You’ll find recollections of visits to France, Uruguay, and the New Jersey shore from Tony’s brother, Christopher Bourdain; a story from Tony’s producer and director Nari Kye of coming to terms with her Korean roots while shooting in Seoul; the producer and musician Steve Albini on the places he wishes he could share a meal with Tony in Chicago, and more.
You’ll notice that, while this book does include basic information on topics like transportation and hotels, this is far from a comprehensive guide to any one location. Prices, exchange rates, travel routes, geopolitical stability, and the business of making and selling food and beverages are all flexible, changing things; for the most up-to-date and detailed information about how to take a train between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, say, or exactly which buses will get you from Midtown Manhattan to the Bronx, you will want to supplement this volume with a fat, full-color guidebook dedicated to one city or country, or, you know, the internet.
Please note, too, that in certain cases, some of Tony’s quotes have been slightly edited or condensed for clarity; these quotes have been pulled from a variety of sources, chief among them the written transcripts of his television shows No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown, along with the various essays Tony wrote in support of certain episodes, and, on occasion, remarks he made to various publications about a specific person or place.
I have tried, as much as possible, to stick to the plan for this book as Tony laid it out. In some cases, a beloved restaurant or bar has permanently closed, or had a change of ownership and with it a change in product, ambience, or attitude. And in some cases, a business has succumbed to the “Bourdain effect,” which is to say, once a low-key restaurant or bar or sausage kiosk was featured on the show, its number of customers often skyrocketed, with Bourdain-inspired pilgrims showing up in droves to try the thing that Tony had on camera. In theory, this was a good thing, a coveted thing for businesses, but it could also utterly disrupt a beloved local institution, turning it into a sideshow or, depending on how the business handled it, a shitshow. Tony and his crew were aware of this possibility, and sensitive to it, though of course it was ultimately a decision each business owner made.
There are risks, and there are rewards, of being exposed to the entire world’s hunger to eat, travel, and live like Tony.
“Who gets to tell the stories?” asked Tony on the Kenya episode of Parts Unknown, which he made with his CNN colleague W. Kamau Bell. It was the last episode for which he recorded narration, and the winner, in 2019, of an Emmy Award for television writing.
“This is a question asked often. The answer, in this case, for better or for worse, is, ‘I do.’ At least this time out. I do my best. I look. I listen. But in the end, I know: it’s my story, not Kamau’s, not Kenya’s, or Kenyans’. Those stories are yet to be heard.”
“Buenos Aires: capital of Argentina, second-largest country in South America. It’s got a quirky, unique character all its own. It looks like no other place, and it feels unlike any other.” Tony visited Argentina for No Reservations in 2007, and he returned nine years later with Parts Unknown for a more focused look at the city, in a hot and semideserted summertime.
“It’s got sort of a mournful, sad, sweet quality that I like. Fits with the architecture. January and February are the hottest months here, middle of summer, and most Porteños who can afford it get out of town, to cooler climes.
“Argentina has the distinction of being home to more head-shrinkers per capita than anywhere else in the world. Now, it’s a proud country. I mean, one of the stereotypes is that Argentines are too proud, that they’re full of themselves. Vain. If this is so, why is psychotherapy so huge in this country? I mean, this is the kingdom of doubt. It’s an extraordinary thing, because in many cultures, to confess that you need to even confide in someone is seen as a sign of weakness. Here, everybody does it, and in no way frowns upon it.”
Tony submitted to an on-camera therapy session with a psychologist, footage of which was woven throughout the episode; in it, he disclosed a recurring nightmare of being trapped in a luxury hotel, and the depressive spiral that a bad airport hamburger could bring on.
“I feel like Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame—if he stayed in nice hotel suites with high-thread-count sheets. I feel kind of like a freak, and . . . very isolated.”
ARRIVAL IN BUENOS AIRES, AND GETTING AROUND
Buenos Aires has two airports, the larger of which is Ministro Pistarini International, also known as Ezeiza International (EZE), which is fourteen miles from the center of Buenos Aires. It handles 85 percent of the country’s international traffic, and it’s a hub for Aerolineas Argentinas. EZE services flights from all over South America, select North American cities, and a handful of European and Middle Eastern cities. Taxis queue outside the arrivals hall; the trip from EZE to the center of the city takes about thirty-five minutes and will cost about 1,750 Argentine pesos, or about US$30. Taxi drivers do not expect a standard percentage of the fare as a tip, but rounding up or asking the driver to keep the change is always appreciated, especially if he or she has handled your luggage. There are also bus lines from EZE, and car rentals are available.
Buenos Aires’s smaller airport, handling exclusively domestic traffic (with the exception of a single Montevideo, Uruguay, flight), is Jorge Newbury Airfield. It’s just a mile and a half from Buenos Aires’s downtown area, with bus lines, metered taxis, and rental cars available.
Travelers already in Uruguay may choose to cross the River Plate (actually an estuary) on a ferry from Montevideo to Buenos Aires, a journey of just over two to just over four hours, and costing between 2,900 and 8,700 pesos, or US$50–$150 each way, depending on time of day and whether your journey is by boat only or includes a bus transfer. Bear in mind that as this is an international crossing, you will pass through security, passport control, and customs, just as if you were flying. The two major carriers are Buquebus and Colonia Express.
In town, Buenos Aires is well served by bus routes, along with a seven-line underground metro system known as Subte, which links the downtown to the outer reaches of the city. Both bus and metro fares are paid via a rechargeable SUBE card, available in metro stations, at official Tourist Assistance Centers, and at various kioskos , or corner tobacco and candy shops, throughout the city. For detailed city transit information, visit www.argentina.gob.ar/sube.
IN THE MOOD FOR MEAT
Tony enjoyed Bodegón Don Carlos, “an unassuming, family-run joint across from [La Bombonera] soccer stadium,” owned and run since 1970 by Juan Carlos Zinola, who goes by Carlitos, his wife, Marta Venturini, and their daughter, Gaby Zinola. It’s in the La Boca neighborhood, which, despite its reputation as a slightly seedy area, is a lively tourist destination by day, for soccer fans, the contemporary art crowd drawn to Fundación Proa, and the masses seeking cheap amusement at the artists’ haven turned schlocky permanent street fair, Caminito.
Historically, there hasn’t been a menu at Bodegón Don Carlos; diners are greeted and asked how hungry they are, and what they like to eat, and then dishes are delivered accordingly—meatballs, Spanish tortilla patata, tomato salads, empanadas, blood sausage, steaks, pastas, and more. Word on the street suggests that the number of foreign visitors has grown since Tony’s visit, and that menus, with prices, are available on request, though still it’s worth it to surrender and put oneself in Carlitos’s capable hands.
BODEGÓN DON CARLOS: Brandsen 699 La Boca, Buenos Aires C1161AAM, Tel +54 11 4362 2433 (full meal with beverage about 3,500 pesos/US$60 per person)
“On the outskirts of town, in the roaring summer heat, the fires still burn hot. A tempting miasma of meat fills the midafternoon air.”
Tony met his on-camera therapist, Marina, at Los Talas del Entrerriano for a traditional parrilla lunch: plate after plate of ribs, steaks, sausages, and, at Marina’s insistence, achuras, or, as Tony might have called them, “the nasty bits”: intestines, kidneys, blood sausage, and more. “On the parrilla,” Tony observed, “many parts of once living things sizzle and char for the pleasure of those Porteños who remain in town. Meat is king in fire, and we shall go hard in honoring the flame.”
Los Talas is a cavernous, casual place, with tables that seat up to ten people; smaller groups are seated together to fill a table. The portions are enormous, the sides and drinks are afterthoughts, the flames are hot, and the mood is lively.
LOS TALAS DEL ENTRERRIANO: Avenida Brigadier Juan Manuel de Rosas 1391, Jose Leon Suarez, Buenos Aires, Tel +54 11 4729 8527 (about 1,750 pesos/US$30 per person)