Anthony Bourdain was one of the most influential chefs in the world. His love of food, travel, and sense of adventure opened up a world of food and culture to many people who tuned in to watch his television programs. He always tried to showcase the most genuine aspects of a country's food and their people, with his own distinct style, wit, and (sometimes dark) humor. His talents weren't just in the kitchen and as a TV personality, he was also the writer of several books, and the winner of several awards and nominations including an Emmy for the show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
In his three traveling programs, No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown, Bourdain would travel to different locations to experience the local culture and cuisine. He would often take viewers to the roads less traveled, to locations that aren't always typically thought of for their food. Or he would show the less touristy areas of culinary countries, giving us an inside scoop on places often only known to the locals. A lot of what Anthony Bourdain ate looked delicious, a lot of exciting and exotic foods, and other things a little more...questionable. At least in the eyes of most people in the United States. He rarely ever turned down a meal, always giving something a try, with no reservations.
Here we present photos of 25 of the questionable foods that Anthony Bourdain actually ate. Most he genuinely seemed to enjoy and a few were even too out there for him.
We start things off with a food that Anthony Bourdain ate on the Parts Unknown episode on Minas Gerais, the heartland of culinary food in Brazil. There he is introduced to the Pequi. Bourdain sums up the reasoning behind why it is put on the list of questionable foods by saying it is
"loved and hated in equal measure... described by both camps as tasting like sweat, or like a barnyard."
It's also dangerous to eat because the soft edible fruit has a large pit that is surrounded by tiny sharp spines that are painful if they get lodged in the mouth, and even more painful to take out.
Balut is something Bourdain has come across more than once, from Vietnam to the Philippines and even on live television on CNN. Balut is a food most people in the United States would find "questionable" on looks alone.
It's a fertilized egg that is boiled after the bird embryo has developed.
It is popular in quite a few Southeast Asian countries and the name originates from the Tagalog word meaning "wrapped". Eating it is considered controversial for health and animal welfare concerns. Bourdain has described it as being "crunchy and delicious".
We'll take his word for it.
23 Cow's Crimson liquid
On the final fully narrated episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Kenya with comedian and fellow TV host Kamau Bell. One of the last things that Bourdain and Bell did was visit a Masai village where they were offered a drink that is common to the people of the Masai, a mixture of cow's blood and milk.
The drink is made, not only for special occasions and ceremonies, but is also used as a cooking ingredient.
And while the experience isn't the greatest for the cow, it lives through it and is well taken care of afterward.
Anthony Bourdain was considered to be a chef with an "iron stomach". But during his time in Liberia, shooting for the Travel Channel show, No Reservations, Bourdain came across one meal that really put his iron stomach to the test - bushmeat.
Bushmeat is game meat of non-domesticated animals that inhabit the forests of Africa.
Bourdain himself once said in an interview with The DailyBeast that he "joined in to be polite", but that he "had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen". Eating bushmeat is considered a threat to biodiversity, and outside of West Africa it is definitely a "questionable" food, but Bourdain has offered a little insight on why it's still eaten in an interview with National Geographic, "they don't have any choice. That's all they are going to eat."
21 Phat Khi Mao
Okay so maybe this one isn't exactly "questionable" in the way the other dishes are. What makes this dish "questionable" is that no one really knows the true origin or what exactly goes into the dish!
It is still unknown as to what kinds of food it is, real mystery meat!
Anthony Bourdain experienced this Thai dish with friend and fellow chef Andy Ricker in an episode of Parts Unknown that focused on Thailand's drinking food. And this particular dish called Phat Khi Mao is one of Thailand's staple meals after a night of drinking. Most versions of this dish use noodles, but it is thought that the original didn't.
Anthony Bourdain had been asked a lot of questions throughout his career, and one of the questions he gets the most is what is the worst food-related experiences he has ever had. And the thing that he had always mentioned was his time filming in Iceland when he tried hakarl.
Hakarl is fermented shark that is considered to be one of Iceland's national delicacies.
Anthony Bourdain wasn't the only popular chef to taste and not enjoy this Icelandic "treat" either. Gordon Ramsay and Andrew Zimmern had a hard time swallowing it as well.
19 Papaitan (Bile Soup)
This dish is already questionable when reading the English translation of its name. It is called Papaitan in its place of origin, Luzon in the Philippines. It is a soup that is made from cow or goat innards.
The bile in the soup comes from what is stored in the liver and gallbladder of the animal and gives it its signature bitter taste.
Anthony Bourdain was offered some but he declined, stating that he had tried it before and that he didn't like the bitter taste. As questionable as it may sound to people in the West, it supposedly has some really good health benefits.
18 Live Octopus
Typically, Anthony Bourdain traveled to distant foreign countries to eat questionable foods, but this one he found in the United States. He went to a restaurant called Sik Gaek, a Korean BBQ in Queens that specializes in preparing fresh seafood. And we mean fresh... as he was served live octopus, chopped up, its tentacles still squirming and wiggling around the plate.
The dish is called San-nakji in Korean and is made from baby octopus.
There is a risk that is attached to eating this dish, the suckers on the octopus' tentacles can latch on and potentially suffocate the person eating it.
17 Sup Tulang (Mutton Bone Marrow Soup)
Singapore is one of the places that seemed to be close to Anthony Bourdain's heart (and stomach). While filming No Reservations, Bourdain was taken to the Golden Mile Food Center, a collection of restaurants in the Golden Mile Complex. He ordered a dish called Sup Tulang, or mutton bone marrow soup. It has a signature deep-red sauce made from chili and tomatoes.
The sauce gets everywhere and stains fingers, gloves are even provided with the meal.
The main point of the dish is to drink the marrow in the bones, usually done by sticking a straw into the bone and slurping it up.
16 Cobra Heart (Still Beating)
Most people in the West would find eating any part of a snake, especially a cobra "questionable", but especially the heart would be out of the question. "Out of the question" for most, meant "probably pretty delicious" for Anthony Bourdain as he was given the opportunity to eat a live cobra heart in Saigon Vietnam. A Q&A set up by the Washington Post had Bourdain recalling his experience with the cobra heart. He likened it to eating a "very small, very angry and rather athletic oyster".
15 Golden Egg
Bourdain had made a living out of traveling to various exotic places around the world and eating even more exotic food. While in Portugal he took a little break and treated himself to some fine dining at a local restaurant that specialized in taking traditional Portuguese cuisine and making it "fancier".
The part of his meal that stood out the most was the golden egg he received.
The egg was wrapped in gold foil. Food made with edible gold is a trend that isn't unfamiliar in the West, there is even a place in New York that sells hot wings basted in gold!
14 Super Soup
Thailand is another country that Bourdain visited frequently and was one of the locations he visited for Parts Unknown. While he visited he went to a restaurant that was popular among the locals, and known for using every part of the animal, from head to toe, and everything in between.
Bourdain ordered a bowl that included a hefty amount of pig's blood, and though he had some trepidations, he admitted that it was actually good!
He said that it didn't have the taste he expected it to, that it was actually somewhat sweet and spicy.
13 "Mystery Meat"
There seemed to have been a very short list of things that Anthony Bourdain couldn't stomach, and this particular item is sitting pretty close to the top of the list. While he was filming in Namibia for No Reservations, he visited a group of bushmen who offered him probably one of the most questionable food items on this list.
The "mystery meat" was from the other end of a warthog (if you know what we mean), cooked on a bed of hot coals.
Of course Bourdain, ever polite when it came to social customs of accepting food, bravely ate a piece of it. To his credit, he didn't get sick from it until about a week later.
12 Seal's Eye
Anthony Bourdain traveled to The Great North, during an episode of No Reservations. He went to experience the food and culture of the Inuit and even joined them on a seal hunt. He got to experience the Inuit hunting beliefs and their tradition of sharing the meat that they got from the hunt, not just among the family, but with the whole community. As Bourdain helped them divide up the meat, he was offered a snack, one of the seal's eyeballs. He likened the texture to sucking on a grape.
11 Beondegi Soup
On an episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain travels to South Korea. While there, he had a late-night meal with the ex-member of a Korean rap group, and the two ate a soup that is known as the "Soup of Death". Considering that it is filled with silkworm larva, called Beondegi, we can take a good guess at why it gets that title.
Outside of the United States, bugs are considered a part of several cultural cuisines.
They are often a great source of protein, and are cheaper and more environmentally friendly, to raise and market as food, than beef.
Tripe is a food that can be found in many dishes around the world. It is the stomach lining of a cow or sheep. When it comes to beef tripe, depending on which stomach it comes from, the looks of it change.
Anthony Bourdain has encountered and eaten tripe a number of times, including during his time in Portugal, for Parts Unknown.
And Bourdain got the chance to put someone in his shoes and try tripe. Who was the (un)lucky person? His friend Anderson Cooper, who is notorious for being a "picky eater".
9 "Stinky" Tofu
A lot of people in the West know what tofu is, but most have probably not heard of, or encountered, Stinky Tofu. It is apparently very well named, as the fermentation of the tofu gives it a very strong odor. It is one of the most popular snacks in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Anthony Bourdain had already shown that he, surprisingly, likes tofu, and stinky tofu was no different when he got a taste of it during one of his visits to China.
8 Egusi Soup
With all of his shows, Anthony Bourdain tried to visit places that people didn't often see or hear about. And one of those places was Lagos, Nigeria. During the episode of Parts Unknown centered around Africa's largest city, Bourdain was immersed in the deep and juxtaposing culture of Lagos, home to most of the richest people in Africa, and some of the poorest. In one of the places he ate, he dined on a dish called Egusi soup, made from goat meat, melon seeds, fish stock, and chilis.
7 Bits Of Bull
In 2013 when Anthony Bourdain joined CNN with his show Parts Unknown, he was challenged by fellow CNN host Piers Morgan to come on his show and try a selection of international delicacies.
Several of the dishes Bourdain was already familiar with, including Balut.
Bourdain was only told what each dish was after he ate it and he commented that this particular dish tasted "rubbery". Even after he learned that he had eaten a certain "part" of a bull, Bourdain wasn't phased at all, but we all were.
6 Goose Intestines
Goose intestines is another of the dishes that were used in Piers Morgan's challenge to Anthony Bourdain. Using the intestines of a goose and other birds is common in several different dishes around the world. Especially in France, where it is often used in "fine dining" like with foie gras and andouille, with pig intestines. When Anthony Bourdain got a taste of them he remarked that they were "pretty good", and said that he would order some in a restaurant if he could.
Anthony Bourdain had eaten a lot of things over the years. As a chef and as a TV personality that traveled the world, he had seen and dined on food most of us have never even heard of. During his time in Quebec, filming Parts Unknown, Bourdain was given the opportunity to eat something he had never tried before - beaver. He joked that it tasted like chicken, but later says that "When you eat beaver, you understand that its beaver."
4 Iguana Tamales
The beginning of Anthony Bourdain' television career started with the Food Network show, A Cook's Tour, reminiscent of his other shows, where he goes to exotic places and tries out local food.
One episode filmed in a small town in Mexico, Oaxaca, had him eating tamales made with Iguana meat.
As strange as it may sound to people in the United States, iguana tamales are an ancestral dish for most who live in certain parts of Oaxaca and the rest of Mexico and Central America.
3 Cuttlefish Ink Pasta
If there was one place other than Asia that Anthony Bourdain loved it was Italy, more specifically, the Southern Italia regions like Sicily. An episode of his show Parts Unknown was dedicated to it, where he dined on a dish of pasta and shrimp. And what kind of sauce did he have on his pasta? Cuttlefish ink. As strange as it might seem, flavoring pasta with cuttlefish and squid ink has been a part of Sicilian food traditions for years.
2 Turkey Bits
This food item was also presented to Anthony Bourdain on the Piers Morgan's show. Throughout Bourdain's career on TV he has eaten various parts of animals, most often the parts people shy away from. But he didn't shy away from gobbling them up and didn't even blink an eye when he was told what they actually were. To Bourdain, the 'special little bits' of the turkey didn't seem to be that unusual of a food. And he might have been on to something, because in Illinois there is an annual festival centered around this dish!
1 Budae Jjigae
And we end our list with a dish that Bourdain got to try during his time in South Korea, filming for Parts Unknown. Why is he on a set that looks like it belongs on a TV show like MASH? Well, this "questionable" dish was apparently created during times of conflict when the pickings were slim and all that was available were canned goods. It includes a lot of different ingredients, including SPAM, baked beans and ramen. He seemed to genuinely enjoy it, as it was included in his book Appetites: A Cookbook.
References: Cnn.com, Explorepartsunknown.com, Eater.com, Skift.com, Thedailymeal.com, NYTimes.com, Foodandwine.com