What Anthony Bourdain meant to Myanmar

 

The sudden death of Anthony Bourdain last week left an especially deep pain in the hearts of the Myanmar-based fans of the beloved chef, author, and travel documentarian. Myanmar was the subject of the very first episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – a show that would go on to win five Emmy awards and a Peabody Award for its explorations of cultures and cuisines that were relatively unfamiliar to CNN viewers.

That first episode captured the exuberant anticipation of a Myanmar that could finally say that its dictatorships had ended and things were about to change quickly. Even in the time between the episode’s filming and airing, facts about the country had expired, such as Bourdain’s claim that credit cards were accepted almost nowhere. But there were also moments of intense truth. Even at the peak of the world’s optimism about Myanmar and its nominally reformist government, Bourdain made sure to point out that “there is shit going on they do not want you to see.”

For better or for worse, much of what the traveling chef observed became part of how Myanmar appears in the global imagination. Through his show, millions of foreigners learned about Myanmar’s human-powered Ferris wheels, seditious tea shop conversation, and wars raging just beyond the horizon. They also got a glimpse of Myanmar’s food, and some were even convinced to come over and taste it.

After Bourdain’s death, local band Side Effect shared this story about their meeting with him during the making of the episode:

Thiha Saw, a veteran journalist who is now the chief editor of the Myanmar Times, also reflected on his meeting with Bourdain:

Htet Myet Oo, the founder of Rangoon Tea House, which did not yet exist when Bourdain came to Yangon, described how he was inspired by the chef:


For those who want to follow Bourdain’s footsteps in Myanmar, here’s a guide to where he ate and with whom:

Seit Taing Kya Tea Shop

No. 44 Ma Po St., Myaynigone, Sanchaung Township, Yangon
(+95) 1 535 564

Bourdain had: tea, mohinga (fish-based soup with rice noodles), bean-jam pastries, fresh tandoori bread.

Breakfast date: U Thiha Saw, executive director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute, veteran journalist, and former editorial director at the Myanmar Times.

Feel Myanmar Food

124 Pyihtaungsu St. Yangon
(+95) 9 511 6872

Bourdain ate: pig’s-head salad with Kaffir lime leaf, long-bean salad with sesame and fish sauce, pennywort-leaf salad, a salad of Indian-style samosa.

Lunch date: Ma Thanegi, author of books including Ginger Salad and Water Wafers, local writer, and authority on Burmese cuisine.

Min Lan Seafood Restaurant

16 Parami Road, Mayangone Township, Yangon
(+95) 9 253 042456

Bourdain ate: prawn curry, rice, beer.

Taung Htate Pan Paint Restaurant (Wharf Bar)

Corner of Aung Yadanat Street and Hledan Street, Yangon

Bourdain had: chicken necks and cold beer.

Lunch date: Philippe Lajaunie, restaurateur, former owner of Brasserie Les Halles in New York, and longtime friend of Bourdain.

Morning Star Tea House

Saya San Road, Yangon

Bourdain had: tea-leaf salad.

Lunch date: San Zarni Bo, renowned astrologer and three-time convict.

Kaung Myat Restaurant

110 19th St., Latha Township, Yangon
(+95) 1 251 590

Bourdain ate: assorted barbecue, including grilled tofu and pork tail.

Dinner dates: Burmese rock band Side Effect.

Sarabha

Taunghi Village of the Nyaung Oo Township, Old Bagan
(+95) 9 968 172009

Bourdain ate: chicken curry, slow-simmered soup made from roselle leaves, assorted relishes.


If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out. A range of free counseling services provided by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Yangon can be reached at 09509440408003, 09401638420, 09421181246, or 09253258821.

The emergency crisis hotline at the Pan Hlaing Siloam Hospital can be reached at 09452625100. The hotline at Parami Hospital can be reached at 01657930 or at 09977870369.

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