The way Filipinos reacted to Anthony Bourdain’s death, one would think he was one of their own.
In many ways, that’s true. Filipinos feel a kinship with him and we’d like to think he felt the same. Because really, no one made Filipino cuisine look as cool as he did.
We all knew that our local cuisine had what it takes to go global, that it had more to offer than balut — the infamous fertilized duck egg delicacy that elicits a fair amount of Fear Factor-like horror.
We needed someone to love our cuisine as much as we did, and in Bourdain, we found that person. He — a tall white dude — was our guy.
Bourdain was the one who waxed lyrical about lechon (suckling pig), calling it the “best pig ever” during a visit in 2008.
He was also quite possibly the world’s most famous Jollibee customer, admitting that while he “reviles” fast food, he thinks the sweet Jollibee spaghetti is “strangely alluring.”
He was also a big fan of sisig, a sizzling pork dish made out of chopped up pig face, calling it “casual, accessible, [and] exactly what you need after a few beers.”
Most of the time, when foreigners talk about Filipino food, they invariably compare it to other cuisines. Sinigang is called the “Filipino tom yum” and arroz caldo is often likened to congee.
The thing about Bourdain was that he took local cuisine for what it was and accepted it on its own terms. Filipino food couldn’t be bothered to change into something it was not. Bourdain accepted it for what it is.
Many restaurants he tried during his visit to the Philippines owe their success to Bourdain’s unique worldview.
Joel Binamira, the restaurateur who prepared the lechon featured in a 2008 episode of No Reservations, thanked him on an Instagram post over the weekend for “alter[ing] the course of my life.”
Chef Claude Tayag, who introduced Bourdain to sisig, told CNN Philippines shortly after his death: “Let’s remember him for what he’s done, for introducing sisig to the world.”
May you Rest In Peace, Tony. One day with you helped to alter the course of my life and it has provided gainful employment for hundreds of folks at Zubuchon as well as shining the global spotlight on Filipino food. We are all so saddened by your passing and so grateful to have crossed paths… Salamat. #anthonybourdain #marketman #marketmanila
Of course Jollibee, which Bourdain featured on Parts Unknown in 2013 and 2016, also had words of appreciation for one of its biggest fans.
In a Facebook post over the weekend, the Red Bee said: “Thank you Sir Anthony Bourdain for sharing our joy to the world. You will forever be in our hearts.”
But perhaps Filipinos will remember Bourdain most for his effort to understand and appreciate the Filipino psyche.
His daughter, he wrote in his blog as an introduction to the 2016 Parts Unknown episode on the Philippines, was brought up by a Filipino nanny, just like one of his directors, just like many of the world’s children.
“Like many children all over the world, my daughter arrived home from the hospital to find a Filipino baby nurse. Vangie was with her from the very beginning of her life and in time my daughter came to know her son, her daughter-in-law, their kids — and in time, an extended family and friends — in New Jersey, Southern California and the Bay Area — and of course, most importantly, Jacques, Vangie’s grandson, her best friend, from whom she has been inseparable since infancy — her older brother in every way but biological,” wrote Bourdain.
In the same episode, he paid tribute to overseas Filipino workers, many of whom leave their children behind to raise other people’s kids. Bourdain said: “Filipinos are, for reasons I have yet to figure out, probably the most giving of all people on the planet.”
There are many reasons for Filipinos to love Bourdain, not least because in the way he showcased the best of our culture, you would deeply, honestly think that he is Filipino, too.
CORRECTION: This article previously stated that Bourdain featured Jollibee in a 2008 episode of No Reservations. He actually featured it on Parts Unknown in 2013 and 2016.