Thank you, Anthony Bourdain

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.” – Anthony Bourdain

I loved you, Anthony Bourdain. You came into my life at a time when I was trying to figure out not only why I wanted to travel, but why I wanted to travel a particular way. You taught me that it is remarkably simple: just be genuinely interested in what other people like to eat, and be open to eating whatever that is with them.

You taught me how to connect to others through food, that this is one of the most powerful ways to experience our common humanity.

You taught me that food doesn’t have to be beautiful and expensive – that the best meals are made by local families in their kitchens or by street vendors, wrapped in newspaper.

You taught me that it doesn’t matter if we ever get to see the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal or that painting or that famous whatever. The best way to travel is to get our hands and faces sticky from sharing a meal with locals and loved ones.

You celebrated poor immigrant food, the food I grew up with. You recognized it for what it was: the best damn stuff out there. You let little Chinese grannies school you. You sat on brightly colored plastic stools in Saigon. You looked sheepish sometimes. But you never said no.

Yes, you were yet another white guy who was celebrated for discovering the “other.” But I suspected you weren’t always comfortable in that role, and I appreciated every time you tried to flip the script, giving voice to the locals instead of using them as props for your own self-discovery.

Anthony Bourdain, every time I bite into a fish head and acknowledge how delicious it is, I’ll think of you.