There is no more delicious way to learn about the world than through food, and that is precisely what Anthony Bourdain does on his new CNN show, Parts Unknown. It is through a culinary lens that we view countries and cultures that have been relatively closed off to the world, including Myanmar, Congo, and Libya.
Bourdain has showcased food of many places throughout his eight years of hosting No Reservations for the Travel Channel. However, moving to CNN has given Bourdain access to parts of the world not normally displayed in leisure travel shows. In exploring these countries, Bourdain opens our minds to understanding cultures in a more familiar and intimate way. We see past the headlines of war and strife and into a family’s dining room, where we meet for shared meals and stories.
The first episode brings us to Myanmar. Since the 1962 military coup d’etat, few from the Western world have seen anything from the country aside from stories of atrocities, including genocide, child soldiers, and human trafficking. The country has begun to slowly open up over the past few years, and the show gives us a rare glimpse into its borders.
People are proud of their culture and food, regardless of the political regime they live under. As Bourdain notes, people are often more at ease with someone seeking to understand their culture than with someone seeking a news story. As a self-proclaimed essayist rather than journalist, Bourdain shows up with no agenda aside from wanting a good meal, and is able to share heartfelt connections with the locals. In doing so, he shows us our shared appreciation for food and cultural identity.
Food tourism is not new. Its apolitical, ubiquitous, and fundamental nature appeals to everyone across the globe, regardless of ethnic, political or religious background. Precisely because Parts Unknown is based on food rather than politics, it can reach a different, perhaps broader, audience than a purely political show. Those who tune in will learn about history, culture, and cuisine while watching Bourdain chomp down on local treats.
You can watched the full first episode here.