Last night as I was buried in my couch watching the season premier of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, it occurred to me that we've done a lot of blogging about food-related television shows like Top Chef on City of Ate, (mostly when the show has a local participant featured) but we've not spent much at all on more serious programming. Bourdain's latest is a must-see for anyone who has an interest in food, travel and culture, and that holds true even if you've not enjoyed his previous projects, including No Reservations.. Parts Unknown is Bourdain's most creative work to date and arguably some of the best food journalism available right now.
This latest season opened with images of a street vendor selling small fruits in the Punjab region of India that borders Pakistan. His street cries, carefully looped with urban-turned-musical sounds, provided a rhythmic soundtrack that was perfectly tailored to the opening images of vendor stalls, whizzing cars and livestock wandering the city streets. Music drives the imagery throughout the show, and slick cinematography and camera tricks provide visual interest that can almost border on psychedelic.
There's more than eye candy, though. Bourdain's conversations and narratives touching culture and politics make the program more interesting and informative, and the food scenes act like little arias, punctuating the seriousness with compelling food porn. You haven't seen Bourdain as animated as he was as kulcha, a heavily buttered wheat bread filled with onions and other ingredients served with a soupy chickpea stew, was brought to the table, or a similar bread stuffed with minced goat.
There's sag so thick you could spread it on bread like butter, a temple that has served thousands of free meals every day for the past 300 years and an almost comically retro meal served in a 100-year-old hotel that included baked eggs Florentine and mulligatawny soup. I've already dug out my Indian cookbooks; my apartment will smell of Punjabi curries soon.
Next week, Bourdain heads to Vegas and hijacks a private dining suite for a meal with Michael Rhulman that features caviar, truffles and so much sabayon. There's also a cameo from José Andres and what looks like quite a few whiskey shots. I wouldn't miss it.