Viewers can’t seem to get enough of Anthony Bourdain eating food. Especially strange food. Starting with his first show, A Cook’s Tour, leading to his second, No Reservations, and then in his final, Parts Unknown, Bourdain made a hugely successful career out of traveling and eating. Unlike many others before him, Bourdain’s shows focused on a different side of food. There were bowls of pasta and steaks of course, but there was also reptiles and rodents. Ingredients were showcased, eaten, and often enjoyed that most people watching had never heard of, let alone thought of as food.
When on camera, Bourdain captivated audiences with his insatiable curiosity about other people and the food they eat. In spite of how far he traveled or how much he uncovered, he was almost always able to discover new and exotic foods that even he had never tried. He took these opportunities to show the world that what is strange to one is a comfort to another, that no matter where you are in the world, many find a home by the meals they eat and the people they share them with.
As he mentioned in this Food & Wine interview, Bourdain’s career was built almost entirely on seeing what, how, and why people eat. “Look, I travel around the world asking people, "What makes you happy, what do you eat and what would you like your kids to eat ten years from now?" and I get some really interesting and complicated answers in places like Beirut, Iran, Vietnam, and even Detroit."
Thankfully for us, he shared these complicated answers of decades of television. This list is a collection of the weirdest things that Anthony Bourdain ate while on camera. Some of them he sorely disliked, but many he loved, showing us that expectations often have little to do with the real experience of sitting down and eating another culture’s food.
20 Fermented Shark in Iceland
Also known as Hákarl, Bourdain sampled this traditional Icelandic dish of fermented shark meat during the 2004 season of No Reservations. According to Iceland Magazine, Bourdain was visiting during the mid-winter feast hosted throughout the country, Þorri. The fermented shark dish is not served all the time but, luckily for Bourdain, is a traditional food for the festival. In the episode, he scoops the cubed meat onto his plate, and over a mouthful of it, describes it at “unspeakably” strange. Since then, he has repeatedly mentioned Hákarl as one of the worst things he has ever eaten which, coming from a man who has eaten as much as he has, is saying something.
19 Feral Pigeon
A delicacy in Cairo, the pigeon is traditionally served to newlyweds on the night of their wedding. However, it is also served at restaurants like the one Bourdain sits down to eat at while visiting Egypt. The pigeon actually looks delicious on screen, a crispy, juicy meat dish stuffed with spices and cooked in a pan. Alongside the plate of bird, a glass of brown liquid is served, looking somewhat like muddy water or a root vegetable juice. It is revealed to be pigeon soup, a stock made from the cooking of the meat that is served with the meal. The soup is supposed to be good for you, and the meal is “utterly delicious” according to a very happy Bourdain.
18 Maggot fried rice
Another fellow CNN host, Piers Morgan, challenges Bourdain to run through a tasting of foods that are unknown to him. To keep it interesting, Morgan does not tell him what he is eating until after he swallows each bite. After sampling unidentified meat byproducts, Bourdain digs into one of the bowls with a spoon and promptly responds with a, “yeah I’ll pass on that one”. Turns out, the bowl was filled with a fried rice and maggot mixture, a larva that Bourdain had labeled before biting into it. Watching the clip, it’s easy to see that this was a tough one even for Bourdain to stomach.
17 A Meat Slushy
In Singapore, Bourdain visits a food court. Typically a place to take in the local eats, he samples an item on the menu that most Westerners have likely never heard of. Known as bone soup, or a meat slushy, the bright red soup was served as a pile of bones ladled onto a plate with the broth. There is no spoon needed to eat this meal. Instead, Bourdain picks up each bone and sucks the marrow out of it. A local shows him how to take it one step further by inserting a straw into the bone to get even more of the juicy marrow out. Infused with chilis and other flavors, the meat slushy is another meal that Bourdain greatly enjoys.
16 Beaver in Quebec
Not typical of other parts of the world, beaver meat is a traditional food in Quebec, Canada. The beaver meat that Bourdain is served is put into a pot and stewed for a long period of time, the result looking something like a short rib or a beef stew. The tender, hunks of melt-in-your-mouth beaver is served in a sauce thickened with the blood, giving it a rich and delicious taste that is infused with the flavor of different parts of the animal. Bourdain loves it and is happy to add yet another never before eaten meat onto his list.
Bourdain kick-started his reputation for eating the strange and at times, the utterly gross, early on in first series, A Cooks Tour. He takes a trip to Namibia where he is served a cooked warthog anus by his hosts, a local tribe. The bite of food is removed from the animal and thrown on an open fire unwashed. It was then served to Bourdain in small pieces that he later said he had to “choke down” in an effort not to offend anyone. As a guest, Bourdain was kind and chivalrous, appearing to enjoy every bite he was given of the warthog.
14 Goose Intestines
This is one item consumed on the Piers Morgan Live daring taste test episode that goes over well. While not everywhere considers the insides of animals to be great food ingredients, many people in the world cook delicious dishes with them. Bourdain is a huge fan of them. In this case, he is served cooked goose intestines. After he swallows a bite of it, he is visibly excited about the dish. The intestines were revealed for what they were, cooked in black bean sauce, to which Bourdain responds that it’s “really good stuff” and that he’d “order that in a restaurant”.
13 The Heart of a Cobra
In his first series, Bourdain visits Vietnam and comes face to face with a small bowl of a different kind of internal organ. The heart of a cobra is served not only as a form of food in Vietnam but is also meant to be consumed medicinally for male virility. Often, the heart is removed from the cobra immediately and is still beating when it is put into the bowl. The heart is taken in one shot, much like the slurping down of an oyster, while it is still fresh. Bourdain claimed that it continued to pulse as it went down, though we'll have to take his word on it for this one.
12 Neck Bones
Sitting down at a restaurant with the owner, who also happens to be a Mississippi state senator, Bourdain is given a rundown of what makes soul food, soul food. The Senator tells Bourdain that the meats are what other people consider throwaways, the neck bones, the feet, the ears, the parts of the animal that many do not think of as edible. In soul food, these are the staples of the meal and are well respected. Bourdain, who often speaks of his love for these other animal parts, sits down and excitedly dives into a plate of pig neck bones at this Southern restaurant.
Balut is a fetal duck egg that is normally eaten in the Philippines. Yet another food from the Piers Morgan Live episode, this is the last one that Bourdain tries in the tasting sequence. While it is definitely strange to Western cultures, he likes it. To him, the problem is about texture, a different crunchiness from the egg and potential duck parts, but the taste he claims is nothing to worry about. In fact, Bourdain goes on to describe a restaurant that, at the time of this filming in 2003, was serving Balut in New York City to customers from all different backgrounds.
10 A Special Kind of Pig Soup
When visiting Northern Thailand in Parts Unknown, Bourdain accompanies another chef to a restaurant serving up pork specialties that are especially loved by the locals. Here, no part of the animal is wasted. The tail is grilled, the brain served, and the blood made into a soup. The soup, which Bourdain is initially hesitant about, is mixed with fresh lemongrass by hand over a long period of time. When it is served, Bourdain changes his tune. Turns out he loves the soup and the entire meal, claiming it to be the best meal he’s had in Thailand.
9 Seafood Served Alive
On a rare stop off in his home city of New York, Bourdain visits a BBQ and seafood restaurant in Queens. The specialty dish there is well known and loved and is most famous for the way it is served. In this No Reservations episode, a plate of moving food arrives, an octopus still wriggling about amidst the sliced chilis that garnish it. Bourdain happily tries it and is not disappointed. In spite of a slight mishap with one of the suckers of the octopus' still attached tentacle latching onto his cheek during the meal, he is not dismayed and left feeling quite pleased with both the dish and the restaurant.
8 Stomach Bile Soup
While filming in the Philipines, Bourdain is convinced to try something that he has not been a fan of in the past. Bile soup is pretty much what it sounds like. Chunks of meat are stewed in a broth made from stomach bile, which is apparently a bitter and quite strange taste. One of many times throughout his career where he proves his taste buds wrong, Bourdain ends up really enjoying the soup. This is should come as no surprise from the man who routinely shouts his love for all things meat and internal organs.
7 Spaghetti at Jollibee
When in Manila filming an episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain stops off at one of his favorite fast food spots. The Philippine chain, Jollibee, is wildly popular in its home islands and elsewhere around the world. There’s even one in New Jersey, exclaims Bourdain over bites of fried chicken. While much of what he eats at the Jollibee table is pretty standard fast-food fare, the spaghetti dish is not. The noodles are topped with a sauce described by Bourdain as being a “ketchupy, bananay” sweet flavor. This is mixed with chunks of hot dogs and topped with a heap of shredded bright yellow cheese. Strange? Maybe. But Bourdain specifically seeks out this spaghetti dish when he walks in the door, so might not be as weird as it sounds.
6 Stewed Pork Leg
During a Parts Unknown night ride around Chiang Mai, Bourdain’s friend points to a woman in a cowboy hat on the side of the road. They pull off and he explains that she is famous for her featured dish, stewed pork leg. Also known as Khao Kha Moo, the pork leg is cooked in a master sauce that has been passed down for generations. Not the recipe, but the actual sauce. It is never thrown out or restarted, but continued night after night, year after year. The pork leg is immersed in it and cooked slowly until it is cooked through and tender. At this point, it is removed and hacked into bite-size pieces by the woman in the cowboy hat. Bourdain reveals why this dish has become so famous as he dives into the plate exclaiming it as “really tasty”.
5 Frito Pie
While in New Mexico, Bourdain wanders into what looks like a cheesy tourist shop on a mission for the hidden gem inside. The Frito pie, beloved by those who know it, and strange to those who don’t, is, as Bourdain describes it, “As American as apple pie.” A ripped open bag of Fritos is topped with canned chili and shredded cheddar cheese, creating a soupy, crunchy, mixture. Bourdain is merciless when describing it, in the end saying that in the few moments during which he has consumed the Frito pie he reached “a level of self-loathing” that he compares to a night out drinking. In spite of it all, he cleans the bag out, eating every last bite of the Southern snack food.
4 Pig’s Ear Sandwiches
In the Mississippi Delta, Bourdain sits down at a restaurant serving up the local sandwich specialty, Pig’s Ear. Also called simply Ears, the sandwiches are more like sliders, small enough to be eaten in two or three bites. The ears are cooked simply, put on the small potato bun, and topped with coleslaw, mustard, and homemade hot sauce. The owner of the restaurant tells Bourdain that when his grandfather started it, the butcher was giving away the ears for free because no one wanted them. Now, this sandwich is much loved, especially by a delighted Bourdain who cannot stop exclaiming how good the meal is.
3 Deer Tendon
We do not often associate an animal's tendon with meat served on a dinner plate. However, in Northern China, deer tendon is a popular dish. Bourdain explains that the food of this area is a response to the harsh climate. It relies on preserving, pickling, and the creative use of all the animal parts. In this case, the tendon, which is cooked in a wok and served in a small bowl at the table. While eating, Bourdain says that this is what Westerners are “taught not to like”. Its the texture he’s referring to, which he describes as a snap followed by gelatin. Bourdain loves the dish, and we have to admit, it did look pretty tasty when served.
The snail is a highly used and adaptable food. Served as a delicacy in fine-dining restaurants in parts of the world and as cheap street food in others, eating snails is both commonplace and extremely diverse. In other parts still, it is seen as a strange thing to eat. Bourdain eats them more than once on the screen. He eats them in the streets of Vietnam, in a backyard on the Greek Islands, and in vibrant Roman dishes. In spite of how strange the little shellfish might seem to parts of the world, Bourdain, and many others it seems, love eating snails however they’re served.
1 Traditional Seal with Inuit Hosts
Bourdain sat on the floor and consumed pieces of a freshly killed seal with the local Inuits in their home during a No Reservations episode. To ensure that he has the full experience of the meal, he is offered a bit of everything. As the guest, he is given the finest parts of the seal, including the eyeball, as well as the kidney, and liver of the animal. All of the meat is uncooked. The seal is simply butchered and eaten raw. While Bourdain does not exclaim to enjoy it one way or the other, he eats everything he is given. His hosts enthusiastically enjoy each bite, exclaiming with delight each time they pop a piece of it into their mouths.