Top 10 Episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’ That Will Blow Your Mind
Food connoisseur Anthony Bourdain wasn’t afraid of going off the beaten path to find his next meal. The TV personality, author and epicurean was well-known for his willingness to skip the overhyped restaurants in favor of a home-cooked meal in a foreign country. His travels are well-documented, but nowhere are they more prevalent than in his hit show, Parts Unknown.
Really any episode of Parts Unknown is worth watching, but if you’re unfamiliar with the series, these are the top ten episodes you should watch first.
10. ‘Libya’ — Season 1, Episode 4
When this episode was released, Bourdain said, “I’ve made a lot of hours of television over the years, but I think I’m proudest of Sunday’s Libya episode. I believe it is the best piece of work I’ve ever been part of.”
It’s groundbreaking because it shows the very real conflict going on in Libya, but from a culinary perspective. When the crew stops at “Uncle Kentaki,” a fried chicken place that’s about as Westernized as you can get, a Libyan there calls it the “taste of freedom.”
Next: This episode hits close to home — literally.
9. ‘Massachusetts’ — Season 4, Episode 7
Not every excellent episode of Parts Unknown takes place in foreign lands. In Massachusetts, Bourdain skips popular Boston hotspots in favor of smaller cities like Provincetown and the rural backroads of Franklin County. There he encounters evidence of the nationwide heroin epidemic.
The episode is the opposite of lighthearted, but it exposes important truths that you just have to see.
Next: Bourdain tries to recreate his favorite book.
8. ‘Congo’ — Season 1, Episode 7
“It is the most relentlessly fucked-over nation in the world, yet it has long been my dream to see Congo. And for my sins, I got my wish.” Bourdain starts the episode off on a dramatic note as he tries to recreate his favorite book, Heart of Darkness. Most of the episode takes place on a boat as the host explores this highly conflicted African land.
Next: It’s like food porn.
7. ‘Lyon’ — Season 3, Episode 3
Remember how Parts Unknown is all about discovering delicacies? This is gourmet food that you’ll recognize. In this episode, Bourdain joins with famed French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud to explore some of the city’s most exciting culinary delights that are just as beautiful as they are delicious.
Next: Discover Bourdain’s hometown through his eyes.
6. ‘New Jersey’ — Season 5, Episode 5
As Anthony Bourdain says, possibly with a hint of sarcasm, “To know Jersey is to love her.” It was only a matter of time before the show host headed back to his home state to discover East Coast staples from boardwalk eats to pastrami sandwiches. His own brother even has a cameo.
Next: The show host is all about busting through barriers.
5. ‘Jerusalem’ — Season 2, Episode 1
This episode shows Bourdain speaking with natives of both Israel and Palestine in an attempt to show how similar the two cultures really are.
As he says in the episode, “One can be forgiven for thinking, when you see how similar they are, that two peoples, both of whom cook with pride, eat with passion, love their kids, love the land in which they live or the land they dream of returning to, who live so close, who are locked in such an intimate, if deadly, embrace, might somehow, someday, figure out how to live with each other? But that would be very mushy thinking. Those things, in the end, probably don’t count for much at all.”
Next: This episode takes a dark turn.
4. ‘Tokyo’ — Season 2, Episode 7
An episode about Japan’s capital city could go in so many different directions, food-wise, but this one goes underground in true Bourdain fashion. Half of the time is devoted to Tokyo’s dark and deviant nightlife, including fetishes, drinking, local dive spots, and even fighting robots. Love it or hate it, the whole thing is mesmerizing to behold.
Next: Discover a country that used to be off-limits.
3. ‘Cuba’ — Season 6, Episode 1
Forget what you think you know about Cuba. Despite being cut off from the world for decades, this island community is changing quickly, which is readily apparent in the cuisine. Bourdain takes viewers on a journey through formerly forbidden lands and keeps it real the whole time.
Next: You’ll learn more here than on the news.
2. ‘Iran’ — Season 4, Episode 6
It may be in the news daily, but Iran is still mostly a mystery to Westerners. As Bourdain says, Iran is so unexpected, and he handles the discoveries with wonder and no hint of ego.
The episode explores food and culture beautifully without exploiting either. His guides for the tour include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi who were once detained by the Iranian government. It’s a must-watch episode for any Parts Unknown fans.
Next: This may be the most famous episode of all.
1. ‘Hanoi’ — Season 8, Episode 1
In the most famous episode of the show, Bourdain dines on noodles and drinks beer with former President Barack Obama in the humble Vietnamese eatery Bun Cha Huong. The juxtaposition of these two celebrities against the everyday restaurant atmosphere is poetic and poignant. The restaurant even installed glass windows to preserve the booth the two dined at, turning the epic moment into a tourist attraction.
If you only watch one episode of Parts Unknown — let it be this one.
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