Q & A: Anthony Bourdain, back in Beirut
July 26th, 2010
03:45 PM ET
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The host of No Reservations takes care of unfinished business in Lebanon's capital and talks organic food and the best kibbeh he's ever had.

Nicole Dow: During your first visit to Beirut in 2006, the war between Hezbollah and Israel started. It’s now been four years. How did you find Beirut on this second trip?

Anthony Bourdain: Fantastic, we did the show that we hoped to do in 2006 - a happy show highlighting the aspects of Beirut that enchanted us the minute we arrived. I was dismayed to see that Hezbollah is more powerful than they were in 2006. If anything, they seem to be the beneficiaries of the conflict. Public opinion-wise, politically, far more influential now than when I was there in 2006.

The Beirut I hoped to find is still there, largely back to the way it was, to a large degree. The food was fantastic. We were treated well everywhere.

ND: Did you travel outside of Beirut, to other parts of Lebanon?

Bourdain: We went to Baalbeck [a major city in northeast Lebanon, famous for its Roman ruins], and made a few stops along the way. As much as I loved the ruins, some of the food along the way was almost as awesome.

ND: Where did you go? What did you eat?

Bourdain: First order of business, we went back to Le Chef. We made a point of going back with the exact same camera crew and producer, who were stuck with me in 2006. And we met with largely the same people, even went to the places we didn’t get the opportunity to visit last time, and we met with people from the previous episode.

Met with Kamal [Mouzawak], the guy who runs Souk el Tayeb [Beirut’s first farmer’s market], went to the restaurant that showcases regional produce and specialties [Tawlet]. We had a meal at his [Kamal’s] house. Ate seafood along the coast, falafel at a famous place run by two brothers who don’t talk to one another [Falafel Sahyoun].

Had sfiha near Baalbeck, went to a vineyard where they make traditional arak [a clear, aniseed flavored alcoholic beverage] and wine. Try to eat around high and low. Had traditional Armenian food at a restaurant in the Armenian district.

[Sfiha are meat pies, and are a specialty of Baalbeck. Sfiha is traditionally made with ground lamb, spices, diced tomatoes and onions, and baked in a brick oven.]

ND: When it comes to Lebanese food, most people think of the commonly known staples like hummus and tabbouleh. What discoveries did you make about Lebanese food on this trip? What surprised you?

Bourdain: I know a great chef in Melbourne Australia, who made me sensational Lebanese food way before I went to Lebanon. I ate decent Lebanese specialties in New York at the little joint around the corner. I had very high expectations, already well aware of how good the food could be. If I was surprised, it was at what Kamal is doing at Souk el Tayeb, bringing cooks from different social, political, and regional, sectors. Always sounds like the beginning of something good. And the degree to which people [in Lebanon] are going organic.

ND: Out of all the specialties you tried, which one(s) do you recommend?

Bourdain: The fresh sfiha was amazing. The butcher ground up the meat in front of you and then bakes it. Delicious. Some people from out in the mountains were making kibbeh like I’ve never had before, Incredibly fresh, amazing, made a real impression.

ND: What meal did you enjoy most?

Bourdain: A home cooked meal at Kamal’s house up the coast: he brought in a number of specialties, it’s a blur at this point. It was like the greatest hits of Lebanese classics and regional specialties.

ND: What do you appreciate most about Lebanese cuisine? And how do you think it is different from its Arab and Mediterranean counterparts?

Bourdain: Interesting. There seems to be an abundance, a variety, there’s a brightness to the colors, flavors, textures that I haven’t seen in other places in the Arab world. Highly sophisticated desserts, I am not a dessert guy, but the desserts are interesting. The attitude as well. Eating in Lebanon is fun.

[in 2006] Pulling out on the landing craft, I was already determined to come back. It was the great unfinished business of the show.

[On Beirut] How vibrant, exciting, a magnet for creative people. Beirut is always better than I expected. The environment, the mentality of Beirutis is far more lively and exciting than one has any right to expect for a place considering what it’s been through.

ND: What is it like to have the best food and travel gig on the planet?

Bourdain: (laughs) I also have the best television gig on the planet, operate with total creative freedom, largely free of any interference from the network. It’s nice, I’m very grateful for that.

Working in a kitchen 14 hours a day, is a still recent memory, every day I’m reminded of how lucky I am.

No Reservations airs on the Travel Channel on Monday nights at 10 ET

Tomorrow – Anthony Bourdain talks family dinners, eating oysters with his 3-year-old and the last dish that made him cry.

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Filed under: Anthony Bourdain • No Reservations • Television


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  6. Eddie Fonseca

    Beirut has always been called the Paris of the Middle East because of it's great food from French infusion and to great fashions from the latest clothes that you can pick up from the shops of Beirut. Beirut has always been a nation that has been open minded towards other cultures, and to learning about other foods and cultures from around the world, being an American who has traveled to Beirut the food is the best in the world so are the people. Anthony should really do more show's about the culture of Beirut the fashions as well, to enlighten the world about the culture of Beirut and the Middle East as well.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
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    October 26, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  10. Inga

    I want to know if Tony has tried Lutefisk. That would make him cry – but at least he'd have an Aquavit chaser.

    November 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  11. Maria L

    Mmmm, just reading about the amazing sfihas he ate is making my mouth water and my heart yearn for Brazil and Lebanon. Brazil has a large Lebanese population; I was lucky enough to have grown up with sfihas and kibbehs around every corner. I was visiting my family in Rio right after the war broke out. I anxiously awaited Anthony's 2006 Lebanon episode, as now excitedly await to view his return. I'm glad to hear Beirut has mostly recovered, as this historically rich city has been on my travel list for many years. Now to find some decent sfihas in Atlanta.....

    November 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  12. Gary M

    Saw Tony in Atlanta doing a show. He stood in front of 20k people told stories and did question and answer for two hours without a break. Very funny and some lessons on travel. Nice to see someone who can talk without a teleprompter and answer questions honestly. Tony in 2012!

    November 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  13. Bobby G

    Tony's great, but when he and Zamir get together the show is a riot!

    November 22, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  14. Wow

    Great show. Watching the news again regarding Beruit and sad again.

    Appreciate if you could comment on WTF is going on today in Beruit.

    August 26, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  15. Denise

    I grew up in Beirut and loved, loved, loved it.
    Thoroughly enjoyed Bourdain's return. The food looked great but if I ever got to return I would have a simple schwarma sandwich on Rue Bliss!

    August 25, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
  16. deepa

    All i want to say has already been said....would like to add just one more thing...u feed my soul anthony, and god bless u for that :) :)

    July 29, 2010 at 2:51 am |
  17. TI

    this guy seems really full of himself.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
    • Really Now

      and you get that from 8 answers in an online article. Doubt you've watched his show. Sounds like you're the one that is full of themselves.

      July 29, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  18. Daria

    I can't believe how silly some of the above comments are. Personality of a "turnip?"... I bet the same person who wants Tony to be insightful about the feelings of war stricken civilians loves Emeril Lagasse and actually follows Rachel Ray’s 30 minute recipes in her line of cookware. If you don’t get his sick humor, exaggerated sarcasm and monotonous drug/alcohol related innuendos tune out and don’t follow anything Tony related. You just don’t get it and you never will.
    Anthony Burdain NEVER claims to be the best chef, empathetic to human suffering, or an example of wholesomeness for our youth. Anyone who ever worked in the industry understands.
    Currently reading “Medium Raw”, outstanding!

    July 28, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  19. garyM

    I know you get my point but argue for the sake of arguing. There is more in life than just good food and good times. A sailor was abducted and killed yesterday in Afganistan, but you will not hear much about it. The audience wants to see exotic places they can dream about, not hellish nightmares. For that poor guy, the texture of the hummus or the flavor of the meat is a distant moment in time lost for ever. But I'm off topic so enjoy your show....

    July 27, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  20. Bourdain Fan

    Slim, he hasn't smoked in years, so I'm not sure what show you're watching. And it's a Travel Show, not a food show – food is the best introduction to any culture.

    GaryM, he focused on HIS OWN experience in 2006, which included being stuck in the hotel, fear of being bombed, and the emotions of finally being rescued. Nothing wrong with that. He has no obligation (or ability) to explain how other people felt. No one can do that.

    July 27, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • garyM

      It's a matter of perspective. I used to watch and love the show because I felt it was about the exotic places and the exotic dishes. Watching Anthony B. leaving the war zone with out any after thought about the people that hosted him and cooked for him, made me realize that the show is 100% all about A.B.'s taste buds and exotic experiences and nothing else.

      July 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
      • Bourdain Fan

        Gary M, you claim that episode made you realize that the show was 100% about what you thought it was about in the first place? You're right!

        And what makes you think he had no thoughts about the people that hosted him and cooked for him? Did you even read the article above?

        July 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • reem

      well then why did he look like he was having withdrawl signs on his show when he went to saudia arabia.

      July 27, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  21. Slim Whitman

    Bourdain has the personality of a turnip. How in the "F' does he host his own food show? He must have pictures of the producer with a goat. Otherwise no way is he on TV. Even my wife, who loves these types of shows, thinks Bourdain is terrible. All he does is smoke, drink, and try to be interesting. Well I guess 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

    July 27, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • Fatty Lumpkin

      @Slim: Sounds like you and your wife watch too much TV. The point of his show is to give you a sense and appreciation for the food and culture of the places he showcases – not sugar coated and sanitized for U.S. consumption.

      Perhaps a few good episodes of Rachael Ray will get you guys back on track.

      July 27, 2010 at 10:18 am |
      • RKG

        Exactly!

        July 27, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • reem

      i agree slim i stopped watching as a fan when i saw his show from saudia arabia he looked like he was having withdrawl from drinking cause they dont allow alcohol there or tobacco.

      July 27, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  22. Foodie

    Love your show. Watch it every Monday night..Seen you in D.C.. Please come back soon..

    July 27, 2010 at 8:12 am |
  23. Tom

    The best Lebanese food is eaten in homes, not in restaurants. I am Lebanese, and on my last trip there, all the restaurant food tasted the same to me. There is very little variation.

    July 27, 2010 at 6:50 am |
  24. Lori B.

    Mr. Bourdain may consider re-visiting his Les Halles resturant in NYC. I've been a patron since the resturant opened years back. In a recent visit, I had one of the most tasteless steaks in years and one of the heartiest laughs at the Bastille Day menu. No reservation.... or was that no credibility.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:09 am |
    • Really Now

      You may need to do your homework. Les Halles is not "his" restaraunt. Don't think he should be responsible for the quality once he leaves.

      July 29, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  25. Gomer

    I got a giant earwig in my kraplauch the last time I ate there, sehr gut!

    July 27, 2010 at 1:09 am |
  26. Grace Chehoud

    No, Eli. You do not want to miss it! If this interview is a reflection of the show, I'd pick up some food from a nearby Lebanese restaurant to enjoy while watching!

    July 26, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  27. Eli

    So, when is this show going to air? I definitely do not want to miss it.

    July 26, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
    • Me Me Me

      Someone off Boredom Bourdiner! in Beirut!

      July 28, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
    • Really Now

      That's why I TIVO all of them!

      July 29, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  28. Sergio A.

    I wish there was an edit button on the comments. I made a mistake in my last comment when I directed it at Jojoauggie. My apologies. I was reading the paragraph that GaryM wrote and I intended to direct my comment at GaryM.

    Fitzpatrick and GaryM, that last comment went out for the two of you.

    Yes, making a mistake is human. Go ahead and shoot me if you aren't.

    Greetings all.

    Sergio A.
    Miami, Florida. ( The magic city )

    July 26, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  29. Sergio A.

    Fitzpatrick, Jojoauggie.... Anthony Bourdain's show, in case you've never watched it, is not a war documentary, or a political documentary, or advocating a political cause of any kind. Mr Bourdain's show is one of the entertainment and sense of adventure that comes with traveling and eating in other countries and being an "explorer of culture". If the two of you think you need to watch bombings in progress, evacuations in progress, people suffering, etc etc, then I suggest you turn to Anderson Cooper or any of the other war correspondents on any major news network. Mr Bourdain does a wonderful job with his show, and the two of you are trying to give it a political twist that his No Reservations show DOES NOT DESERVE!!!!.

    July 26, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  30. Grace Chehoud

    Fitzpatrick, you're an idiot! What do you call bombing the hell out of a country? Playtime?

    But you're right, Baalbek is not a major city per say, however, it is a town of over 72,000 people, and a major historic and cultural site in Lebanon.

    I am so glad that Bourdain returned to Lebanon to fulfill his intentions from 2006.

    July 26, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
  31. Jeff

    Anthony, love your show. I know you're coming up on 100 episodes but seriously, why havent you done a Taiwan show yet? Talk about a food crazed nation with great, friendly people. I still can't get over it. Love most of the locations but you've had some interesting choices like Cleveland? Or 3 shows on China, ugh! I love most episodes but there have been some definite dogs....Please tell your staff to research and consider Taiwan for sometime during your next 100 episodes. Thanks

    July 26, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
    • Johnny

      Yea, Anthony Bourdain really should do a show on Taiwan. It has a much richer food culture, as it is a fushion of all the provinces of China on one Island. There is really too much to explore here. Maybe he just isn't man enough for the task.

      October 8, 2010 at 11:17 am |
      • Jessica

        Agreed. He definitely needs to do a show in Taiwan. Marinated ground pork over rice, oyster noodles, stinky tofu, fresh bamboo shoots, soymilk with mahn-tou, scallion pancakes, bubble tea! I could go on and on!

        April 30, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Prof

      Great idea. I think he's missing a golden opportunity to really show a different side of Mandarin-speaking culture.
      Taiwan's complex history of Dutch, Chinese and Japanese influences with the indigenous tribal cultures would be an excellent addition to the No Reservations series. Taiwan's unique identity and the fact that it's the only Chinese-language democracy and controversial status would make it an ideal location for one of Tony's typical rants/monologues. Finally, New York Times called it the best spot in the world for Chinese cuisine in their travel section. And guess what, no lead nitrate, pesticides and other secret ingredients that have defined Beijing's attitude toward food safety.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  32. garyM

    Politics and ideologies aside, the 1st show showed the human side of a conflict where there were people who had a boat to evacuate and people who were stuck with their families at the beach not knowing what would rain upon them. Anthony is a food critic so I wasn't expecting a philosophical perspective of the human trajedy, but I was disappointed to see that the only comment made was on the relief of finally being evacuated (as countless civilians remained stranded there). I have to admit that I will never be able to enjoy his show, as I used to, after that.

    July 26, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • RKG

      WTF? What was he supposed to do?

      July 27, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  33. jojoauggie

    This guy is so entertaining to foodies and travelers. Maybe more networks should give their "talent" more creative freedom. Imagine!

    July 26, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  34. Sergio A.

    I think you have the only true travel show on TV Anthony. I've been to a few of the places you've visited, and you're the only person in the travel shows who really bothers in showing your viewers the holes in the wall, the culture, and the traditions of the places you visit without re-touching them with marketing flare for the American viewers. I like your show because it is faithful to the places you visit, because it is respectful of their culture, and because along with not re-touching the culture with "marketing make up", you also don't do that to the local foods. Seeing one of your shows is about as close as it gets to actually visiting the places you visit.

    Even shows about survival skills that supposedly are "real TV", and that have had much fanfare and large viewership in the past re-touch the landscape where they film. I mean, there is no such thing as an African mask in Peru. You get the drift, and so does a lot of other people. That is why I think your show is the best. Congratulations, and thank you for bringing us real knowledge of the culture and food of other places.

    I never miss your show. And that parillada in Uruguay was fantastic. I am familiar with the parrilladas and I was salivating all along the show while I was watching it.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  35. Fitzpatrick

    So, uh, Baalbek is definitely not a "major city," of course you're going to think Hezbollah is powerful if the only place you go outside of Beirut is Baalbek, and what happened in 2006 was not in any sense of the word a "war."

    July 26, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • Grace Chehoud

      Fitzpatrick, you're an idiot! What do you call bombing the hell out of a country? Playtime?

      But you're right, Baalbek is not a major city per say, however, it is a town of over 72,000 people, and a major historic and cultural site in Lebanon.

      July 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
      • BIlly

        So when will this episode air? I went and checked the website for the air date but could not even find Beirut or Lebanon.

        July 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  36. Kathleen Mary

    That first show from Beirut was nothing short of gob-smacking amazment and should have won the show and crew an Emmy award. Have wanted to say thank you to them all for that episode ever since. And so now I get to say it. Well done. very very well done. You were a part of history and showed the human and social struggles that I had never seen before. Right time..right place...right show. Looking forward to the next visit.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
    • may

      I agree with Kathleen, and I would like to praise Anthony for going back To Lebanon after his expereince in 2006.I am a Lebanese-American mother of three boys, we had the same experience as we were visiting in 2006 and had to be evacuated. I saw that episode shortly after we came back to the States, and was surprised by Anthony's courage and compassion and how he showed the human struggle and made the best of what he got.I was very happy to know that he went back and saw the real beautiful, hospitable, amzing country that we are all proud of. By the way I can make decent Lebanese dishes, if Anthony is in California, he is more than welcome to stop by...

      November 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  37. Basil

    I'm happy to see Anthony return to Beirut to finish what he started in 2006. Reading about all the Lebanese food he ate has made me very hungry. Thanks!

    July 26, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  38. Drew

    Anthony. I love your show. I love that you put eating and traveling in its place (at the top!). I would do anything to come on your show for an episode. Safe Travels... Drew W.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
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