When news about Anthony Bourdain’s death hit earlier this month, I took to the couch and sought solace in old episodes of Parts Unknown. For me, Bourdain’s swaggering prose and fearless wanderlust always invited comparisons with James Dean, albeit the celebrity chef version. And now, with his death at a relatively young age, the comparison seems even more apt.
Bourdain’s bottomless hunger to forge bonds with people of foreign cultures and foreign lands always resonated. And watching him bound into new places, seemingly unfettered by self-consciousness or timidity, always gave me goals. Sure, I want to explore and experience all there is, but that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about the small aircraft travel and unfamiliar cuisine such explorations entail. I’ve always got my itinerary and copies of my I.D. stowed in my travel belt, but when a last-minute itinerary change comes up or I encounter a bathroom set-up I’m not sure how to handle, this reticent traveler does her best to affect some Bourdain swagger. It helps to keep this favorite quote in mind:
Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald's? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?" Anthony Bourdain
Fearlessness in the face of a fish head served me well on a recent trip to Ghana, where I sampled fish heads baked, fried and stewed, with eyeballs shriveled and crunchy or glazed and wet. The fried version was easiest, like a chewy, crunchier-than-usual fish stick. The stew presented more of a challenge. But courage was summoned easily enough with a glass of pito, the sour and delicious Ghanaian home brew made from fermented sorghum.
Had I known my travel hero would be checking out so soon, I would have taken the opportunity to toast him.