If you were unfamiliar with Anthony Bourdain before his appearance on the premiere of ‘Top Chef’ this season you may think he was a bit of an ass. Hey, maybe you’re right. I’m not going to judge you for that. In fact, maybe Bourdain himself would agree with that assessment. The truth is out of all the chefs out in the world of television Bourdain is the most honest about who he is, and what’s important about food to him. After some failed television cooking show attempts Bourdain realized that he wasn’t a happy go lucky food host. His talents lay elsewhere, mainly in telling the audience the truth about what they’re hearing or seeing. As in his book Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain brings his versatile palette and blunt honesty to the exotic world The Travel Channel sends him on in ‘No Reservations.’
‘No Reservations’ follows Bourdain as he explores exotic – and occasionally more western – locales and cuisines. The man will eat anything at least once, and you can be sure he’ll let the audience know how he feels. His sarcasm towards a local delicacy can often be harsh, and damnit I wouldn’t want it any other way. It was especially enjoyable watching the cutthroat culinary master mock his Viking hosts throughout the blizzard ordeal of the Iceland episode in the first half of this season. Lest you feel Bourdain was simply being a jerk he truly did enjoy some of the food he ate during the trip. But I’d like to see you eat fermented shark and smile at the man handing it to you.
Bourdain and his crew are making the trip to Shanghai in an upcoming episode, even going so far as to explore that mythical land of Shangri-La. The land made famous in the novel “Lost Horizon” doesn’t actually exist, but that didn’t stop one small village from officially renaming the area. Hey, if Disney World can pretend they’ve got France on property who are we to judge this enterprising group? As he often does Bourdain partakes in the local fair offered at markets and eateries that would only survive in NYC if there were copious amounts of rats and bribes around.
The upcoming episode of ‘No Reservations: Shanghai’ is really more of the same. But it’s also more of the weird and wild enjoyment of “unique” dishes that fans have come to enjoy from Bourdain. The trip begins with a simple exploration of the perfect dumpling, which leads Bourdain to a restaurant I had to look up to spell because I’m rusty on my Chinese letters. The Nanxiang restaurant has superb dumplings, if you believe Tony – and it’d be criminal not to on culinary items – and we’re lulled into a state of ease as we begin a leisurely and tourist friendly journey through China. I’ve never wanted a dumpling more than when watching the professionals at this century old restaurant serving up their fare.
It must be in his contract with The Travel Channel, but once again Bourdain partakes in fermented food. We Americans usually like our fermented food products to come in a bottle and originate in the Rockies or some such crap. Note to my fellow Americans: please stop drinking horrible beer. This time around in his walk through Shanghai Bourdain comes across some fermented tofu, which sounds like the most innocent of fermented food items he’s choked down. His face seems to express the tofu tastes like soybeans wiped on a yak’s ass and then laid out in the sun to “mature.” He then makes the trek up to the fabled Shangri-La – which is really just one of many so named towns in the mountains of Tibet – where he enjoys the local delicacy, yak cheese.
‘No Reservations: Shanghai’ may just be more of the same, but damn if watching Tony wander through the local markets and towns isn’t just as entertaining as the first time. Three seasons in and this is still one of the more intriguing shows on television. If you’re free on a Monday evening be sure to tune in to The Travel Channel for some gastric extravaganza.
New episodes of 'Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations' will begin airing on July 30 at 10:00 p.m. on 'The Travel Channel.