From the first time I watched Parts Unknown, I was hooked.

Anthony Bourdain didn’t simply host a food travel show. He took viewers to new worlds. In all his curiosity, coolness, and righteousness, he taught us that we can find beauty in every corner of the world.

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During Parts Unknown, food offered much more than delicious tastes and good times. All those epic meals served as the motif for us to know the unknown. In this sense, Parts Unknown showed us how to travel and understand others.

In this article, we’ll list Anthony Bourdain’s 10 best episodes from Parts Unknown. Take time to watch them, and you’ll be hungry for more than just food. You’ll be ready to experience parts unknown.

West Virginia, USA (season 11, episode 1)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

Bourdain travels to an often-misunderstood region of the USA and challenges preconceived notions many outsiders have about West Virginia. The show is beautifully tied together through local food and art and portraits of the proud, resilient, and entrepreneurial people of West Virginia.

As Meredith McCarroll, an author from Appalachia, wrote, because Bourdain “asked questions, listened to answers, and entered with empathy, he came to know one small corner of Appalachia.”

The scene you must see

Bourdain attends the Mount View High School homecoming football game. It’s there he notices the “easy familiarity between people.”

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

“The hills of West Virginia are breathtakingly beautiful. The people I met there were unfailingly kind and forgiving of my liberal tendencies.”

“Though the culture, landscape, attitudes, voting tendencies and religious beliefs were about as far from my own as they are from Saudi Arabia’s, I felt at home. I was enchanted, both by the people I met and by McDowell County’s mist-covered small towns.”

Hanoi, Vietnam (season 8, episode 1)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

Vietnam, specifically, Hanoi, had long been one of Bourdain’s favorite destinations. This episode marked his final visit.

Between the dizzying motorbike rides and bowls of spicy noodles, he offers a window into Vietnam’s fast-growing economy, while detailing the poverty and pains of war that remain present. You can see Bourdain loved Vietnam, and Vietnam loved him back.

The scene you must see

President Barack Obama and Bourdain eat at a working-class noodle joint. They sit on plastic stools, having a beer and eating bún chả (grilled pork and noodles). Watching the two exchange personal stories and discuss traveling is surreal.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

“One of the great joys of life is riding a scooter through Vietnam.”

Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever.”

Congo (season 1, episode 8)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

Bourdain’s journey through the Congo reminds us that travel shouldn’t consist of margaritas at a swim-up bar. Travel should challenge us. And he encounters plenty of challenges in the Congo.

During his journey, Bourdain also details Congolese history, notably the destruction Belgian colonialism caused and the civil wars that occurred after independence was won. The episode will open your eyes, especially when you watch members of the Wagenia tribe jump into treacherous rapids to catch fish.

The scene you must see

Bourdain’s entire trip down the Congo River, and the references to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, are powerful. Along the way, you hear from locals who offer a unique look into life in the Congo.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

I wanted to go to the Congo, and I did.”

“After nine days of threats of imprisonment, confiscation of footage and what was the most chaotic, difficult, yet amazing trip of my life, the last thing that stands between us and our flight home is the reason we came. The Congo River itself.”

Iran (season 4, episode 6)

Parts Unknown - Anthony Bourdain's 10 Best Episodes - Frayed Passport - Iran

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Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

As Bourdain describes, Iran is a “blank spot on nearly every traveler’s resume.” But his trip to Tehran breaks preconceptions and expectations. Bourdain goes beyond the geopolitical tensions to experience Iran and the people there.

The episode, with its nervous yet optimistic energy, teaches us that not everything is black-and-white. Yet the episode still covers harsh realities. Two journalists who talk with Bourdain during the show, Jason and Yeganeh, are arrested and detained by police afterward.

The scene you must see

Bourdain enjoys home-cooked Persian cuisine in the home of Nazilla, an art gallery owner. The scene provides a look into the lives of Iranian families and shows how food can serve as a unifier.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

People have been ridiculously nice to us. Aren’t you guys supposed to be the axis of evil?”

“I don’t know that I can put it in any kind of perspective. I feel deeply conflicted. Deeply confusing, exhilarating, heartbreaking, beautiful place.”

Uruguay (season 11, episode 2)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

After watching Bourdain travel through Uruguay, from Montevideo to the coast, you’ll want to pack your bags and go. Uruguay, famous for its meats cooked over fire, delights Bourdain, an avid meat-eater. Accompanied by Uruguayan native and chef Ignacio Mattos, Bourdain seemingly has the time of his life. The episode has a laid-back, humorous vibe. But you still get the details on Uruguay, a charming country with progressive social norms.

The scene you must see

With marijuana recreationally legal in Uruguay, Bourdain partakes because “everyone’s doing it.” It’s quite the hysterical scene.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

“Every great culture does this. It’s moist. Look, when they kill me, that’s the way I want to go. Keep the heart beating, pump the blood into a bucket, let the village women come and make sausage.” (speaking about blood sausage)

“I mean, there’s a vibe here that just is unlike any other place on the continent. It’s the opposite of New York, in a lot of ways. People aren’t pushy.”

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Rome, Italy (season 8, episode 9)

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Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

One of the most visually pleasing episodes, Bourdain makes a point to shoot no classical Rome. During the trip, Bourdain and Asia Argento discuss Italian politics and Mussolini over pasta. You’ll think about fascism more than you have in a while. Plus, classical music carries the narrative along beautifully. And afterward, you’ll want to twirl some noodles.

The scene you must see

Bourdain attends a gladiators boxing match. He eats spaghetti and drinks wine while watching. The juxtaposition of an elegant meal alongside the blood and tears of fighters is something to behold.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

“Some people in my hotel asked me where they should eat. Just wherever the concierge tells you to go: Don’t go there.”

“I think we’re looking for a man on a horse to make everything better.”

Laos (season 9, episode 3)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

Bourdain takes viewers to a mystical land haunted by legacies of war. Much of the episode centers around the Laotian Civil War and the secret American war in the country. The history gets heavy, and the episode is backdropped by that history. The episode also gives us a picture of Laos’ gorgeous landscape and kind, generous people. Watching it is an incredible sensory experience, especially the noodle dishes and fish and meat skewers.

The scene you must see

As Bourdain zooms past rice paddies on a motorbike, he emphasizes something profound: Though Laos is the world’s most heavily bombed country per capita, it’s also “breathtakingly beautiful.”

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

“From the first time I heard of Laos, I was hooked, and filled with a desire to see the place. Once a storybook kingdom of misty mountains and opium. At one time a protectorate of France. A mysterious land-locked nation bordered by China, Thailand, Cambodia, and, as fate would have it, Vietnam.”

Lagos, Nigeria (season 10, episode 3)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

From the street shops where you haggle for everything to the wealth of Victoria Island, Lagos stimulates the senses and mind for every second of this episode. The show also does a great job of covering Lagos’ growing IT industry and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Also, the food Bourdain eats, which includes Hausa tribe dishes, pepper soup, and Jollof rice, will have your taste buds dancing.

The scene you must see

Bourdain’s trip through Makoko, a floating village of nearly 100,000 people that’s right near Victoria Island, unveils the inequality in Lagos. Yet the unfailing optimism and work ethic of the people there shows the proud, resilient spirit of Lagos.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

“Buy, sell, trade, hustle, and claw. Make your own way, any way you can.”

“It’s mad, it’s bad, it’s delicious, it’s confusing, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Libya (season 1, episode 6)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

Bourdain arrives in Tripoli shortly after the death of Muammar Gaddafi. It’s probably the most dangerous trip Bourdain takes, as tensions remain high. Foreigners were being called out of the country at the time, and local militia even request the crew stop filming at one point. During the episode, Bourdain and crew talk with lots of young revolutionaries over meals ranging from lamb stew to seafood to a KFC knockoff (Uncle Kentaki Fried Chicken).

The scene you must see

When Bourdain gets to Misrata, you see the impact of the fighting. Viewers see bullet holes on every corner wall. At the Misrata War Museum, the camera captures the faces of those that died in the uprising. It’s a powerful tribute to those who risked it all for freedom.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”

“Omar is young and was even younger when the fighting started. He, like so many Libyans from around the country and many who had left, heeded the calls for revolution on Facebook and Twitter. They fought in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata, and everywhere in between.”

Houston, USA (season 8, episode 5)

Why it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s best episodes

In one hour of television, Bourdain destroys preconceptions of Houston and Texas. He feasts on authentic Houston barbecue with local rapper Slim Thug, explores the city’s Vietnamese-Bayou crawfish scene, watches an Indian cricket club match, and shares a farm-to-table meal with Congolese refugees. He even samples “purple drank”, which originated in Houston. The show wonderfully highlights the city’s African American, refugee, and immigrant communities. By the end of it, you’ll be wowed by Houston. This is a diverse, happening city with a dynamite food scene and bright future.

The scene you must see

Slim Thug gives Bourdain a lesson on slab car culture. You’ll enjoy seeing all those sweet lowriders. The coolness of the scene embodies Houston in a way: laid-back, grooving, and moving forward.

Best Anthony Bourdain quotes from the show

“In some places in America, apparently, you’re still welcome. Welcome, stranger. This land is your land.”

“Ain’t nothing more American than Viet Bayou-style crawdads steamed with Sriracha, orange juice, and beer. And gotta have corn of course, and potatoes with sausage and beer—did I mention beer?”

Bourdain’s final lesson: Take a walk in this beautiful world

Like Anderson Cooper said of his friend Bourdain, “He saw the world and experienced life in ways most people never will. In places near and far, he talked and tasted with open mouth and eyes and an open heart and mind.”

Anthony Bourdain passed away in June 2018. But his adventures, food, and words of wisdom live on. Bourdain was a world-class chef. But he also inspired us to live intently and experience parts unknown.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with Bourdain’s advice on life: “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

About the Author

Nick Callos has always had a passion for reading, writing, and discovering the new and unknown. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Nick holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Boston College. He currently splits his time between his hometown, Chengdu, China, and the open road. A full-time travel writer, Nick hopes his work can inspire others to explore the world more deeply and enjoy the digital nomad lifestyle.

Featured image via Unsplash.

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