Editor’s note: Anthony Bourdain tragically took his own life on June 8, 2018. This story was first published on mensjournal.com on October 2015, and remains here in its original form.
In the cover story for the October 2015 issue of Men’s Journal, contributing editor Josh Eells puts in some quality time in Kuala Lumpur with professional globe-trotter Anthony Bourdain as he shoots for the upcoming season of Parts Unknown. In it, we learn about how Bourdain grew from the arrogant young chef and author of Kitchen Confidential to a man who can appreciate a great hotel. We also see first-hand how Bourdain gets himself immersed in a city. Here, gleaned from the feature story, are rules to follow if you’re looking to experience a place in all its grit and glory, like Bourdain does.
1. Head straight to the central market.
“You see what’s for sale, you see what’s in season, you see the fundamental color palette of a cuisine. You really get a sense of what a culture loves most dear.”
2. Beware the buffet.
“Stay away from the hotel buffet. It’s the food that has the most number of hands on it and the least amount of love given to it. It’s for a transient audience — they know you won’t be there when you’re shitting like a mink, so why should they care? Also the hotel buffet is ethically a crime. If you’re eating spaghetti Bolognese in Chiang Mai, there’s something wrong with you.
3. Don’t worry about capturing the moment.
When Bourdain explores a city, he needs to record his movements for television, but he strives to keep the authenticity of the place. “I’ve said a million times that I’d rather miss the shot than disturb the mojo. If you’re stopping people to move a light, it fucks up the dynamic and the spontaneity.”
4. Get your workout in early.
Every morning, Bourdain makes sure to get in a bout of jujitsu, which he credits for having helped shed 30 pounds and kicking his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. “You get your ass kicked, spend the day thinking about it, then go back the next day to see if you figured anything out.”
5. The hotel is key.
“I’m a whore for the Chateau Marmont. I will do all sorts of terrible things so I can stay in that hotel. Hazzlit’s in London is quirky and wonderful. I love any majestic old colonial hotel in Asia or Africa left behind by the French of the Brits — the Metropole in Hanoi, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Angkor Wat, the Continental in Tangier. If Graham Greene stayed there, chances are I’ll like it.”
6. Watch your hands.
“I always go out of my way to be briefed on offensive gestures in a country. We learned that lesson a long time ago. Nobody on our crew does ‘A-OK’ anymore — early on, our cameraman Todd was relentless at it, until finally I was like, ‘You do understand that you’re asking if they’ll ass-fuck you, right?'”
7. Seek out quality commodes.
“We talk about bathrooms a lot. Good plumbing is something you hold dear, because it’s few and far between. The best toilets are in Japan — any old-school ryokan with the deep tub, or the toilet that plays Guns N’ Roses. And the worst would have to be Harbin, in China, in the winter. It’s freezing cold, and you go in there and it’s two slats and a deep trench and a 25-foot frozen stalagmite of shit. Just an Everest-size mount of shit in the hole. Mother of God.”
8. Savor the moment.
“My happiest moments on the show are when we’ve finished shooting, maybe had a couple drinks or a joint and say, ‘Wow — who gets to do this?'”
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