The good news from television adventure chef Anthony Bourdain’s trip to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: War didn’t break out. And he didn’t have to eat any warthog anus. The bad news: His plans for fast-food fried chicken delivery in Gaza didn’t work out.
“There are these clandestine tunnels into Gaza from Egypt,” says the host of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, which launches its second season at 9 p.m. Sunday with the Middle Eastern episode. “They’re used to smuggle weapons and people, but also food. Hamas [the militant Palestinian group that controls Gaza] was gonna permit us to phone an order to a fried-chicken place in Egypt and then follow with cameras as it was delivered to Gaza through the tunnels.
“But after a lot of [bleeping] around, we weren’t able to do it. Sometimes your plans just don’t work out.”
Piggybacking an order of wings on a load of mortars would have been a first for Bourdain, but not by much. For the past 11 years — first on the Food Network, then the Travel Channel and now CNN — he’s been mapping the dining habits of violent and slightly crazed Third World countries.
Closest call: Beirut, where a 34-day war between Hezbollah and the Israeli military broke out in 2006 while Bourdain was there taping his Travel Channel show No Reservations. Viewers eventually got to see a CIA officer escort the host and his crew from their hotel to a ship that carried them safely out of the combat zone.
“We didn’t have anything quite that dramatic on this trip,” Bourdain says. “We had a lot of — well, when an American walks into a market with a camera crew, there’s always somebody there who’s going to say, ‘CIA!’ That’s as true in Gaza as it has been in Haiti or parts of Latin America when I’ve done shows there.
“So that can get tricky. But eventually people see that I’m not exactly asking questions about strategic infrastructure. My questions are things like ‘What do you feed your family? Do you fry this or sauté it?’ …
“But still, this is one of the most contentious regions in the world, where people get in ferocious arguments over even the names of things, like, is that a fence or is it a wall? Or who really created falafel? So some people were never quite convinced that this was a simple food show.”
There were enough doubters that, in the episode’s introduction, Bourdain moodily warns that “by the end of this hour, I’ll be seen by many as a terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an Orientalist, socialist, fascist, CIA agent and worse.”
The food itself posed no challenges. In his meals, mostly with ordinary families, Bourdain sampled “a lot of traditional Gazan food — falafel, hummus — and some Kurdish-Jewish cuisine, nothing terribly exotic.” Certainly nothing like the infamous warthog anus that was proffered by an attentive host when Bourdain did a show from Namibia in 2006.
“Of course I ate it,” he says. “Sometimes you gotta take one for the team. I always try to be a good guest, and I knew that it took a lot of effort for them to get it and it meant a lot to them to be able to offer it.
“I was not going to going to disappoint my host, despite having the feeling that I was going to get pretty damn sick. Which I did. That was a lonnnnnng course of antibiotics.”