Cover image for A cook's tour : in search of the perfect meal
A cook's tour : in search of the perfect meal
Bourdain, Anthony.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury, 2001.
Physical Description:
x, 274 pages ; 24 cm
From Japan where he eats traditional fugu, a poisonous blowfish that can only be prepared by specially licensed chefs, to a delectable snack in the Mecong Delta, follows the author as he embarks on a quest around the world to find the ultimate meal.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TX652.9 .B68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
TX652.9 .B68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
TX652.9 .B68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Cooking
TX652.9 .B68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Dodging minefields in Cambodia, diving into the icy waters outside a Russian bath, Chef Bourdain travels the world over in search of the ultimate meal.

The only thing Anthony Bourdain loves as much as cooking is traveling, and A Cook's Tour is the shotgun marriage of his two greatest passions. Inspired by the question, 'What would be the perfect meal?', Anthony sets out on a quest for his culinary holy grail.

Our adventurous chef starts out in Japan, where he eats traditional Fugu, a poisonous blowfish which can be prepared only by specially licensed chefs. He then travels to Cambodia, up the mine-studded road to Pailin into autonomous Khmer Rouge territory and to Phnom Penh's Gun Club, where local fare is served up alongside a menu of available firearms. In Saigon, he's treated to a sustaining meal of live Cobra heart before moving on to savor a snack with the Viet Cong in the Mecong Delta. Further west, Kitchen Confidential fans will recognize the Gironde of Tony's youth, the first stop on his European itinerary. And from France, it's on to Portugal, where an entire village has been fattening a pig for months in anticipation of his arrival. And we're only halfway around the globe. . .

A Cook's Tour recounts, in Bourdain's inimitable style, the adventures and misadventures of America's favorite chef.

Author Notes

Anthony Bourdain was born in New York City on June 25, 1956. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978. He wrote numerous nonfiction books including Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, The Nasty Bits, A Cook's Tour, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, Medium Raw, and Appetites: A Cookbook. He also wrote several works of fiction including the graphic novel Get Jiro! and the comic Anthony Bourdain's Hungry Ghosts. He was the host of several television shows including A Cook's Tour, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown. He committed suicide on June 8, 2018 at the age of 61.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter One WHERE FOOD COMES FROM 'The pig is GETTING fat. Even as we speak,' said José months later. From the very moment I informed my boss of my plans to eat my way around the world, another living creature's fate was sealed on the other side of the Atlantic. True to his word, José had called his mother in Portugal and told her to start fattening a pig.     I'd heard about this pig business before -- anytime José would hear me waxing poetic about my privileged position as one of the few vendors of old-school hooves and snouts, French charcuterie and offal. Chefs adore this kind of stuff. We like it when we can motivate our customers to try something they might previously have found frightening or repellent. Whether it's a stroke to our egos or a genuine love of that kind of rustic, rural, French brasserie soul food (the real stuff -- not that tricked-out squeeze-bottle chicanery with the plumage), we love it. It makes us proud and happy to see our customers sucking the marrow out of veal bones, munching on pig's feet, picking over oxtails or beef cheeks. It gives us purpose in life, as if we've done something truly good and laudable that day, brought beauty, hope, enlightenment to our dining rooms and a quiet sort of honor to ourselves and our profession.     'First, we fatten the pig ... for maybe six months. Until he is ready. Then in the winter -- it must be the winter, so it is cold enough -- we kill the pig. Then we cook the heart and the tenderloin for the butchers. Then we eat. We eat everything. We make hams and sausage, stews, casseroles, soup. We use' -- José stressed this -- 'every part.'     'It's kind of a big party,' interjected Armando, the preeminent ball-busting waiter and senior member of our Portuguese contingent at Les Halles.     'You've heard of this?' I asked skeptically. I like Armando -- and he's a great waiter -- but what he says is sometimes at variance with the truth. He likes it when middle-aged ladies from the Midwest come to the restaurant and ask for me, wanting to get their books signed. He sidles over and whispers in confidential tones, 'You know, of course, that the chef is gay? My longtime companion ... a wonderful man. Wonderful.' That's Armando's idea of fun.     'Oh yes? he said. 'Everyone does it in my town. Maybe once a year. It's a tradition. It goes back to the Middle Ages. Long time.'     'And you eat everything?'     'Everything. The blood. The guts. The ears. Everything. It's delicious.' Armando looked way too happy remembering this. 'Wait! We don't eat everything. The pig's bladder? We blow it up, inflate it, and we make a soccer ball for the children.'     'What's with the soccer ball?' I asked David, also Portuguese, our bar manager and a trusted friend. He shrugged, not wanting to contradict his countryman.     'That's in the north,' he said. 'But I've seen it.'     'You've seen it?'     David nodded and gave me a warning look that said, You don't know what you're in for. 'There's a lot of blood. And the pig makes a lot of noise when you ... you know ... kill it. A lot of noise.'     'You can hear the screams in the next village,' Armando said, grinning.     'Yeah? Well, I'll bring you the bladder, bro,' I said, deciding right then and there that I was going to do this, travel to Portugal and take part in a medieval pig slaughter. Listening to José's description, it sounded kinda cool. A bunch of villagers hanging out, drinking, killing things and eating them. There was no mistaking José's enthusiasm for the event. I was in.     Understand this about me -- and about most chefs, I'm guessing: For my entire professional career, I've been like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II , ordering up death over the phone, or with a nod or a glance. When I want meat, I make a call, or I give my sous-chef, my butcher, or my charcutier a look and they make the call. On the other end of the line, my version of Rocco, Al Neary, or Lucca Brazzi either does the job himself or calls somebody else who gets the thing done. Sooner or later, somewhere -- whether in the Midwest, or upstate New York, or on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, or as far away as Scotland -- something dies. Every time I have picked up the phone or ticked off an item on my order sheet, I have basically caused a living thing to die. What arrives in my kitchen, however, is not the bleeding, still-warm body of my victim, eyes open, giving me an accusatory look that says, 'Why me, Tony? Why me?' I don't have to see that part. The only evidence of my crimes is the relatively antiseptic boxed or plastic-wrapped appearance of what is inarguably meat. I had never, until I arrived on a farm in northern Portugal, had to look my victim in the face -- much less watched at close range -- as he was slaughtered, disemboweled, and broken down into constituent parts. It was only fair, I figured, that I should have to watch as the blade went in. I'd been vocal, to say the least, in my advocacy of meat, animal fat, and offal. I'd said some very unkind things about vegetarians. Let me find out what we're all talking about, I thought. I would learn -- really learn -- where food actually comes from. It's always a tremendous advantage when visiting another country, especially when you're as uninformed and ill-prepared as I was, to be the guest of a native. You can usually cut right to the good stuff, live close to the ground, experience the place from a perspective as close to local as you're likely to get. And José Meirelles makes the word foodie or gourmet woefully inadequate. José comes from a large family that, like its prodigal son, loves food. He went to New York, became a cook, and chef, and then made a rather spectacular success in the restaurant business. José may be quite comfortable, even passionate, about dining at Ducasse or swapping recipes with Boulud or cooking at James Beard House or trying out hot new restaurants in Manhattan, but you've got to see him at his family's dinner table, eating bucho recheado (stuffed pig's stomach), to see him at his happiest and most engaged. From my vantage point behind the line at Les Halles, I was always intrigued by the look of pure joy on José's face as he'd plow through my kitchen (usually leaving a wake of destruction), hurriedly assembling a Portuguese-style cassoulet: a heap of boudin noir , chorizo, pig's feet, pork belly and jowl with white beans baked in a pastry-topped earthenware dish. I was disarmed and bemused by his insistence on buying salt cod for our brandade de morue only from the Ironbound section of Newark, where there's a large Portuguese population, and presumably they know about such things. His mania about top-quality fresh codfish (I'd never seen José yell until a seafood purveyor sent us cod that he found wanting), his love of high-test canned tuna in olive oil, white anchovies, costly sea salt, specially chiffonaded kale, dried chorizo, fresh and only fresh, wildly expensive whole cumin seeds from Kalyustan -- all this made my food costs jump every time José walked through the door. He'd insist I buy specialty items for a rigorously French brasserie, things I'd have no idea what to do with; he'd get sudden compulsions to call D'Artagnan in the middle of the night and buy whole free-range pigs. For the first few months working with the guy, it used to irritate me. What was I going to do with all that quince jelly and weird sheep's milk cheese? What the hell is Superbock beer? José would go into these fugue states, and the next thing you knew, I'd have buckets of salted codfish tongues soaking in my walk-in. You know how hard it is to sell codfish tongues on Park Avenue?     And he talked continually about the pig slaughter -- as if it were the World Series, the Super Bowl, the World Cup, and a Beatles reunion all rolled into one. I had to take his enthusiasm seriously. Not just because he's the boss but also because along with all that Portuguese stuff that would mysteriously arrive came food that even I knew to be good. Food I could identify and understand as being part of a tradition of glorious excess, French-style: fresh white asparagus, truffles in season, Cavaillon melons, fresh morels, translucent baby eels, Scottish wild hare, gooey, smelly, runny French cheeses, screamingly fresh turbot and Dover sole, yanked out of the Channel yesterday and flown (business class, I think, judging from the price) to my kitchen doors. I had more than enough evidence that José knew how to eat. If he told me that killing and eating a whole pig was something I absolutely shouldn't and couldn't miss, I believed him. It's very hard to not be hungry after talking to José for any length of time.     So it was with a mixture of excitement, curiosity, and dread that I woke up on a cold, misty morning in Portugal and looked out the window of my room at orderly rows of leafless grapevines, the fires from distant hearths issuing smoke into a gray sky over the valley. Where I was staying was a bed-and-breakfast, a seventeenth-century quinta (a private home turned country inn) about half a mile from the Meirelles farm. It was set back from a twisting country road, past an arbor, surrounded by fields and orange groves and mountains, looking in every way as it must have four hundred years ago. Three young women looked after a few guests. There was a chapel, and a large dark country kitchen with a constantly burning wood fire and a long table. A vast carbon-blackened hooded chimney allowed most of the smoke to escape. The predominant smell in Portugal, I had quickly found, is wood smoke. The only source of heat in the large house -- in my room, as well -- was a burning fire. When I'd arrived late the previous night, there was one going in my room, creating a nice toasty zone, just large enough to undress and climb into the high four-poster bed. José's family, in addition to their farm, have a home in nearby Amarante, and another residence in Oporto.     By the time I'd arrived here, I'd already gotten the picture that Portugal has plenty of good stuff to eat. I'd eaten head of merluza (a sort of oversized whiting), roast kid goat cooked in an old wood-burning oven (the doors sealed with plaster -- they used to be sealed with cow dung), an incredible octopus risotto, and, of course, bacalao, bacalao, bacalao (salted codfish). I'd spent a night in a roundhouse on a mountaintop in the Douro Valley, awakened in a torrential rainstorm to descend quickly (before the roads washed out) to a quinta at the bottom, where I had roast loin of pork, potatoes roasted in pork fat, and azeito cheese. I'd visited the open markets in Oporto, where I'd met fishwives whose skills with profanity would put any cook of my experience to shame. With José translating, I'd listened for a while to the back-and-forth between fishwives and customers, amazed that sixty-five-year-old ladies who looked like Martha Washington could make me blush.     On the day of the slaughter, we drove to the Meirelles farm, a stone and mortar farmhouse with upstairs living quarters, downstairs kitchen and dining area and adjacent larder. Across a dirt drive were animal pens, smokehouse, and a sizable barn. José's father and cousin grow grapes, from which they make wine, and raise a few chickens, turkeys, geese, and pigs. A few hectares of grapevines and multiuse plots of land stretched over gracefully sloping fields beneath tree-covered hills and mountains, a few church spires and smoking chimneys just visible among leaves and branches.     It was early morning when I arrived, but there was already a large group assembled: José's brother Francisco, his other brother, also Francisco (remember the wedding scene in Goodfellas , where everybody's named Petey or Paul or Marie?), his mother, father, assorted other relatives, farmhands, women and children -- most of whom were already occupied with the early preparations for two solid days of cooking and eating. Standing by the barn were three hired assassins, itinerant slaughteres/ butchers, who apparently knock off from their day jobs from time to time to practice their much-called-upon skills with pig killing and pork butchering. They were a likable bunch: a red-cheeked old man in vest and shirtsleeves, sporting a black brim hat and dapper mustache, two younger men in sweaters and waterproof boots. Looking amiable and unthreatening, they shook my hand over early-morning glasses of vino verde , a barely fermented white wine made from the family grapes.     Cousin Francisco positioned a sequence of bottle rockets and aerial bombs in the dirt outside the farmhouse and, one after the other, let them fly. The explosions rocked through the valley, announcing to all who could hear news of the imminent slaughter -- and meal to follow.     'Is that a warning to vegetarians?' I asked José.     'There are no vegetarians in Portugal,' he said.     The mustachioed man I took to be the chief assassin -- he was holding the knife, a nasty-looking blade with a slot in the middle and a wooden handle -- began his approach to the barn. Everyone joined in the expedition, a look of neither sadness nor glee on their faces. Only José's expression was readable. He was watching me, a wry smile on his face, curious, I was guessing, as to how I'd react to what was about to happen.     At the far end of the barn, a low door was opened into a small straw-filled pen. A monstrously large, aggressive-looking pig waggled and snorted as the crowd peered in. When he was joined in the confined space by the three hired hands, none of them bearing food, he seemed to get the idea that nothing good was going to be happening anytime soon, and he began scrambling and squealing at tremendous volume.     I was already unhappy with what I was seeing. I'm causing this to happen, I kept thinking. This pig has been hand-fed for six months, fattened up, these murderous goons hired -- for me. Perhaps, had I said when José first suggested this blood feast, 'Uh no ... I don't think so. I don't think I'll be able to make it this time around,' maybe the outcome for Porky here would have been different. Or would it have been? Why was I being so squeamish? This pig's number was up the second he was born. You can't milk a pig! Nobody's gonna keep him as a pet! This is Portugal, for Chrissakes! This porker was boots and bacon from birth.     Still, he was my pig. I was responsible. For a guy who'd spent twenty-eight years serving dead animals and sneering at vegetarians, I was having an unseemly amount of trouble getting with the program. I had to suck it up. I could do this. There was already plenty in my life to feel guilty about. This would be just one more thing.     It took four strong men, experts at this sort of thing, to restrain the pig, then drag and wrestle him up onto his side and onto a heavy wooden horse cart. It was not easy. With the weight of two men pinning him down and another holding his hind legs, the main man with the knife, gripping him by the head, leaned over and plunged the knife all the way into the beast's thorax, just above the heart. The pig went wild. The screaming penetrated the fillings in my teeth, echoed through the valley. With an incredible shower of fresh blood flying in every direction, the shrieking, squealing, struggling animal heaved himself off the cart, forcefully kicking one of his tormentors in the groin repeatedly. Spraying great gouts of blood, the pig fought mightily, four men desperately attempting to gain purchase on his kicking legs, bucking abdomen, and blood-smeared rearing head.     They finally managed to wrestle the poor beast back up onto the cart again, the guy with the mustache working the blade back and forth like a toilet plunger. The pig's movements slowed, but the rasping and wheezing, the loud breathing and gurgling, continued ... and continued ... the animal's chest rising and falling noisily ... continued and continued ... for what seemed like a fucking eternity.     I'll always remember, as one does in moments of extremis, the tiny, innocuous details -- the blank expressions on the children's faces, the total lack of affect. They were farm kids who'd seen this before many times. They were used to the ebb and flow of life, its at-times-bloody passing. The look on their little faces could barely be described as interest. A passing bus or an ice-cream truck would probably have evoked more reaction. I'll always remember the single dot of blood on the chief assassin's forehead. It remained there for the rest of the day, above a kindly rosy-cheeked face -- an eerily incongruous detail on an otherwise-grandfatherly visage. Imagine your Aunt Minnie bringing you a plate of cookies as you sat in front of the TV, a string of human molars strung casually, like pearls, around her neck. I'll remember the atmosphere of business as usual that hung over the whole process as the pig's chest rose and fell, his blood draining noisily into a metal pail. A woman cook came running for the blood, hurrying to the kitchen with it after it stopped draining freely, the death and killing just another chore. More women walked briskly to and from the kitchen with other receptacles. Food was being prepared. And I'll never forget the look of pride on José's face, as if he were saying, This, this is where it all starts. Now you know. This is where food comes from.     He was right, of course. I'm sure that had I just seen a thoroughbred being inseminated, a cow being milked, a steer being castrated, or a calf breeched, I would have been equally ill at ease. I was a pathetic city boy, all too comfortable with my ignorance of the facts, seeing for the first time what was usually handled on the Discovery Channel (just after I changed the channel).     The horse cart, with the now-dead pig aboard, was wheeled around the corner of the barn to a more open area, where his every surface was singed with long bundles of burning straw. All the animal's hair was burned off, a time-consuming process that left black streaks and patches on his thick skin. He was then scrubbed and washed with cork, scrubbed again, and then -- another brief but horrible Kodak moment.     I was smoking and trying to look cool, as if what I'd just seen hadn't bothered me at all. The pig was positioned head away, hind legs and butt pointed in my direction. Global Alan, one of the shooters for the TV crew, was standing next to me, shooting from a crouch as the men washed and rinsed the pig's upper body. Suddenly and without warning, one of the men stepped around and, with the beast's nether regions regrettably all too apparent, plunged his bare hand up to the elbow in the pig's rectum, then removed it, holding a fistful of steaming pig shit -- which he flung, unceremoniously, to the ground with a loud splat before repeating the process.     Global Alan, professional that he is, veteran of countless emergency-room documentaries, never flinched. He kept shooting. You never know, I guess, what footage you might just be required to have during the editing process, but I had a hard time imagining the 'Pig-fisting' scene on the Food Network.     Alan just kept shooting as the man quickly cut a perianal moat, yanked out about a foot of intestine, and tied it into a dainty knot. Under his breath, Alan's only comment was, 'Oh yeah ... that's in the show.' When I looked over at him, he tapped the side of his camera and added, 'Video gold, baby, video gold ... I smell Emmy!'     'This is on cable,' I pointed out.     'An Ace, then,' said Alan. 'I want to thank the Academy ...'     The pig was wheeled into the barn, his legs tied in a spread-eagle position, and the carcass was hung from an overhead crossbeam, to much grunting and exertion from the butchers. The animal's belly was now split open from crotch to throat, his back, on both sides of the spine, cut and allowed to bleed out, and his still-steaming entrails pulled gently out of his abdomen and placed on a wide plywood board to be sorted. God help me, I assisted, stepping right in and putting my hands inside the warm cavity, pulling away heart, lungs, tripe, intestines, liver, and kidneys and letting them slide wetly onto the board.     Have you ever seen Night of the Living Dead , the black-and-white original version? Remember the ghouls playing with freshly removed organs, dragging them eagerly into their mouths in a hideous orgy of slurping and moaning? That scene came very much to mind as we all sifted quickly through the animal's guts, putting heart, liver, and the tenderloin aside for immediate use, reserving the large and small intestines for washing, separating out the tripe, kidneys, lungs -- and bladder. Just as Armando had promised, the bladder was indeed inflated, tied at one end, and hung in the smokehouse to toughen up a bit.     The intestines were taken to a large trough, where for the next few hours a woman in an apron washed them inside and out. Later, they'd be used for sausages. The now-clean, white body cavity was washed with red wine to inhibit bacterial growth and my victim left to hang there in the cold barn overnight, a pail below.     It was time to eat.     A tablecloth was laid over a small table in the barn, only a few feet from the recently departed, and men and women brought a snack for the hardworking butchers and their helpers. The chief assassin whipped out a battered squeeze box and began to play, singing in Portuguese. Vino verde was poured. A frittata-like creation of egg, chorizo, and onions appeared. There was a bowl of cooked beans -- like favas, but garbanzo-colored -- which you had to slip out of their skins before popping them into your mouth. This was accompanied by a little grilled liver, olives, and sheep's milk cheese. A select group of pig killers and relatives gathered round to eat, a slight rain falling outside the barn doors. The old man with the squeeze box, that drop of blood still on his forehead, began a melodic address, what could only be described as Portuguese barnyard rap, an homage to the pig. On such occasions, the words change to reflect the individual circumstances of each particular pig, celebrating its transformation from livestock to lunch, and challenging others present to join in with their own verses.     While I can't remember the exact lyrics -- as translated by José -- I can tell you with some assurance that the words of the first verses went something like this: This pig was a strong one He didn't want to die He kicked and he struggled Sprayed blood in my eye     Looking around the barn, the old man continued playing, throwing it out to the crowd: I'm needing some help here I can't do it again Will one of you bastards Step right on in     At which point, one of his helpers indeed chimed right in with: This beast was a pisser A pig with some guts When Luis stabbed him He kicked me right in the nuts     This went on for quite a while, accompanied by much eating and drinking. I tried to eat lightly -- a difficult thing to do in Portugal.     A few hours later, we gathered around two large tables in the farmhouse for a hearty lunch of caldo verde , kale soup. Very different from the chunky soup studded with potatoes, kale, beans, and sausage that I remember from my early days on Cape Cod. 'That's Azores people's food,' said José. This was a smoother concoction of chorizo-flavored kale, potato, and stock, the potatoes cooked to the point of near emulsification with the finely chiffonaded kale. No discernible chunks and a subtler flavor. (Continues...) Excerpted from A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain. Copyright © 2001 by Anthony Bourdain. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.