Book Review: Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour.

Anthony Bourdain has the best job in the world.

Seriously, he gets to travel all over the world, go to beautiful places, and eat delicious food. Admittedly, he also has to provide wry commentary for the camera crew trailing him through the whole thing, but it still sounds like a pretty cushy gig, if you ask me.

Along with Les Stroud, Anthony Bourdain is one of the few ‘reality’ TV personalities I have any time for. (Then again, both guys have more of a travel show mentality than the scripted nonsense drama on The Bachelor or whatever). I first stumbled across Bourdain while channel-surfing in a random hotel, and, well, I’ve been binging on his shows via Netflix ever since. The only problem with watching (or, in this case, reading) is that it makes me hungry, and a bit jealous that he’s got gourmet tapas or whatever, where I have … leftover pizza in the fridge. Maybe I should learn to cook better.

Quick sidenote: Anthony Bourdain once praised Houston for its Vietnamese food, which, given how much Bourdain absolutely loves Vietnam, is lofty praise indeed. Makes me want to go get some banh mi or something.

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In any case, A Cook’s Tour is Bourdain’s second book, and his first travelogue. He wrote it while filming the Food Network show of the same title. Each chapter deals with a different locale, and Boudain’s culinary adventures he has over there: vodka and borscht in Russia, sushi in Tokyo, haggis in Scotland, breakfast pho in Vietnam, and so on. Boudain loves food- not just the taste of it, but the whole process of preparation. It’s fascinating stuff, and, again, it’s enough to instill hunger and/or wanderlust in the reader.

Of course, this being a book and not a TV show, you lose a little bit of the food-porny aspect, just reading about the various delicious dishes, and not getting to see them (or even hear them sizzle). However, in turn, the book format allows Bourdain to go more in depth into his travels. In particular, every few chapters he chimes in with a segment called “Reasons Why You Don’t Want to Be on Television” that deal with the down-sides of being on TV. You know, stuff like having to re-shoot some incidental footage after drinking too much vodka, or having to make TV-worthy conversation while baked on Moroccan hashish, or just plain food poisoning.

Bourdain also gets to go on about some of the terrible foods he was forced to eat along the way as well. Bird’s nest soup in Vietnam, natto (some kind of fermented bean thing) in Japan, a vegan dinner in California. Bourdain particularly vents on vegans in general, which I can’t help but find somewhat satisfying in my terrible carnivorous way.

Whether he’s rhapsodizing over the good, or unloading on the bad, Bourdain has an eminently readable style, with a very distinct voice. I once read an article that called him a modern day Mark Twain– a title I’m not entirely sure if I agree with. Even still, reading Bourdain is just as fun as watching him, so I’d heartily recommend A Cook’s Tour to anybody with an interest in food and/or travel.

Just make sure your fridge’s stocked.

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