‘Around the World on an Empty Stomach’

I read a lot.  And reading is, out of necessity, the friend of the weary traveller.  Planes, trains, buses, boats, you name the mode of transportation, chances are, you’ll need a book to read.

So, in addition to sharing my experiences of seeing the world, I’ll also share what I think of what I read along the way . . . and what better time to start than the present!

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach (2007, Bloomsbury) is a great read, exactly what you’d expect the written version of the TV show to be.  The no-holds-barred, slightly disgruntled and proudly irreverent (not to mention NY Times bestselling chef and author) Anthony Bourdain has put together a magnificent coffee table-esque book that makes you want to pick up your passport – and a fork – and head off to the nearest airport.

A manageable size and weight in hardcover, it is, for the most part, well-organized.  First, Bourdain introduces not the task at hand, but rather the ‘Band’: his own troupe of merry men who make up his “dysfunctional family” (8).  Next up is the more formal introduction; a kind of ‘this is why the hell I wrote this thing’ look into the trials, tribulations and making of No Reservations the show.  Stemming mostly from the personal shots the crew has taken, No Reservations aims to show, in simple captured moments, what Bourdain has seen over the past three years.

What follows is a colourful and beautiful montage of pictures from every geographical region on Earth: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America are all represented along with a particularly moving section on Beirut.  Describing how the crew, after only a day in this new city, got caught up in the middle of yet another war in Lebanon, is a humbling reminder of how travel is not always what you want or expect it to be.  The world still exists outside your blissful bubble of adventure, and sometimes, like in the middle of a war zone, comes crashing in.

Next is an eye-popping treat of something Bourdain is perhaps most famous for – ‘Food Porn’.  Though only 10 pages with small captions and no descriptions, it’s enough to get your taste buds going and start planning your next trip based solely on experiencing the most masterful foods created on Earth.  His section on ‘Indigenous Beverages’ could equally be titled “How To Endear Yourself To The Locals”; describing his – and the crews’ – passion for making their hosts feel at ease, and themselves feel at home, is a valuable lesson.  Following everything one would eat and drink on a trip, there is a short discussion of the best (Japan) and worst (Uzbekistan) bathrooms in the world, complete with pictures and detailed descriptions.  Uzbekistan is clearly not for the faint of heart.

Bourdain’s homage to his own kind, the cook, creates a nice conclusion to the main text of the book.  Whereas he compared his crew to a band, he here likens cooks worldwide to the Mafia.  A group of tight-knit, all encompassing people who are never entirely able to get away from each other or the kitchen.  Induction to the “International Fraternity of People Who Cook” is “a beautiful thing” (267).  There is a truth to these people, a truth one can see on the plate they put before you.  As Bourdain writes: “It’s good to be a cook” (267).

The final section, ‘Resources’, is, in my opinion, slightly out-of-order.  I won’t lie, when I first got there, I stopped reading.  Reminding me somewhat of an encyclopedia or dictionary (albeit with Bourdain’s signature twist), I didn’t think there was too much of worth beyond page 268.  I was wrong.  Much like reading the dictionary – and come on all you good English majors you know you’ve done it – this section is full of tidbits you never knew, never thought about, or have only heard from that crazy old hostel woman (the one with the yoga mat strapped to her pack that hasn’t showered since she was 22).  You listen to what Bourdain has to say, because he not only tells us, he shows us.  The No Reservations is, after all, a spin-off from that most delectable and slightly salty show bearing the same name.  Still, the ‘Where To Eat’ section should have made an appearance at the very end, and not 3/4 of the way through.  Broudain’s tips for hazards in general and equipment to bring are ultimately trumped by a very important reminder about ‘Coming Home’.  Having been a victim of both culture shock and reverse culture shock myself, I must agree with Bourdain that it’s far more difficult to come home.  Out there, in the wide world, it’s easy to be someone, anyone, you want.  Back here at home, you must re-fit yourself into the space you have created: which is invariably much smaller than you ever thought it was.  But, counsels Bourdain, “look inward” (286) upon your return and you’ll likely find a connection to that outside world you’d easily overlooked before.

A quick, great, humourous and easy read for both the avid cook and traveller, I would highly recommend a look before you set off on your next adventure.

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