On Friday June 8, the world mourned the passing of an icon: Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room in France. He was 61.
To many of us who followed his work since his tell-all ‘Kitchen Confidential’, he was not just a celebrated food writer, chef and TV host – he was the one who brought a new style of narrative to the world of food and travel journalism. His voice was down-to-earth, relatable and unflinchingly honest yet witty. He put the spotlight on the underdogs of the commercial kitchen (the line-cooks, the dishwashers etc), expanded our attention beyond the world of restaurant eating, and introduced us to the real world of food, where it’s all about the people, the culture and the politics, as much as it is about the offals and the off-cuts.
Throughout his TV career, he visited Tokyo and Japan multiple times. He had repeatedly declared his love for Tokyo. ‘If I had to agree to live in one country, or even one city, for the rest of my life, never leaving it, I'd pick Tokyo in a second,’ he said in a 2017 interview with Maxim.
In the introduction to the book ‘Rice Noodle Fish’, he gave a beautiful and spot-on observation of our beloved city: ‘Tokyo was so dense, so crowded with… stuff, so complicated, tempting, delicious, and seemingly unknowable: layer upon layer of maddeningly interesting izakayas in one building alone. One city block a life’s work of exploration. It was a glorious and lasting derangement of the senses that first trip, and I’ve never been the same since.’
To honour Bourdain, we’ve listed some of the restaurants and bars he had featured in his shows ‘No Reservations’ as well as ‘Parts Unknown’. For fans who want to eat, drink and walk in his footsteps, this list is for you.
This dinner-theatre in Shinjuku is bizarre and over the top – just how you have imagined Tokyo to be. Expect 90 minutes of high-powered sketches filled with dancing and fighting robots, flashing lights, special effects and thumping music. Anthony Bourdain compared the show to seeing Janis Joplin, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix live, as he enthused, ‘This is the greatest show I’ve ever seen in my life.’
Bourdain visited this Omoide Yokocho bar after the show at Robot Restaurant, where he mused over the bar culture here in Tokyo, particularly the bartender-patron relationship.
At this premier sushi restaurant in the city, chef Yasuda is known for highlighting the off-cuts, and aging the fish to help develop the flavours. The two men had this exchange that will change the way you look at this iconic Japanese cuisine.
Bourdain: ‘Which is more important – rice or the fish?’
Yasuda: ‘Rice… almost 90 percent. Fish is the second ingredient. The main ingredient is rice.’
This soba institution has been around since 1789, and they are known for their white noodles that are made from the core of the buckwheat seed. Here, Bourdain practised his noodle slurping skill.
‘Perfectly chewy, a quick dip, a loud slurp, coupled with an intake of air important to enjoying the flavour – the part I just can’t seem to get right.’
At this famous yakitori restaurant in Kinshicho, Bourdain tried the lesser known parts of the chicken as well as raw chicken sashimi. ‘When you eat a fresh beautiful chicken like this, it’s gotta be pink.’
Dear Anthony Bourdain, thank you for introducing Tokyo to the world. Thank you for your contributions, and especially for bringing a new, refreshingly candid and earnest voice to the world of food and travel journalism. Tokyo will you miss you dearly.