Anthony Bourdain generated quite the local buzz these last few months with the filming of his CNN travelogue, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in Manila. In December, he was seen around the city sampling local cuisine and was profusely photographed at Jollibee. Manila was featured in the seventh season’s premiere last April 24.
We Filipinos take enormous pride in international exposures like this one, so it’s only natural that we scrutinize and dissect the details of Bourdain’s most recent visit. Fortunately, the show’s host is not your usual jeepney-riding, balut-eating visitor made to struggle with cute Tagalog phrases. The great thing about Anthony is that he doesn’t patronize the locals nor gush over the food like an idiot.
Parts Unknown delivered by shedding light on Pinoy culture not usually seen or experienced by foreign eyes such as:
The Filipino Christmas
The crew did well by coming in the Christmas season when everyone is jovial and the spirit of giving is at its yearly high. Bourdain attended an office Christmas party that could not be farther from the template given its staples such as lechon and parlor games with sexual undertones.
The Struggle of the Overseas Filipino Worker
One of the show’s producers had his retired Filipino nanny, Aurora, featured on the episode. Hers is a familiar story of decades-long employment abroad and coming home to a family who barely knows who she is.
Bourdain had emphasized the fact that perhaps millions of people around the world rely on Filipino maids and nannies. Part of his visit is to find out where this culture of exceptional caregiving comes from and why millions of Filipinos themselves are taking on jobs outside of the country and away from their families. Most of us already know why, and though Bourdain’s revelations are only scratching the surface, the show painted an excellent picture of the OFW struggle.
Balikbayan boxes are a part of OFW culture. No other nation is known to have an industry that specifically produces boxes with the intent of sending goods to loved ones back home. Other countries usually refer to these as care packages, but Filipinos have adapted the practice of consolidating various goods into one big box to bring or send home to their families. Bourdain did a good job of tying this in with the central theme of the episode, which as he mentioned in his foreword, the Filipino caregiving nature.
As Bourdain narrated, “music and singing are a huge part of life in the Philippines.” The world traveler noted that Filipino cover bands can be found in any corner of the globe, and any famous rock act is easily replicated with just hours of practice. This observation was already taken seriously years ago when Arnel Pineda became Journey’s vocalist.
Being a chef, all eyes were on Bourdain as he traversed the metro in the name of food. Jollibee, which is basically kid crack, produces shamelessly sweet spaghetti with zero regard for the dish’s Italian origin. Bourdain called it “deranged, yet strangely alluring,” and in that moment, he was one of us.
Apparently, the culinary master already had an affinity for sisig. It sounded bizarre when he referred to it as "street food" but he did right by it in proclaiming it to be the best match for beer. As for home cooking, Bourdain had a hearty adobo meal and the delectable hodgepodge we all love that is kare-kare. He said that Filipinos love to feed people, which couldn’t be truer. The reason is we are like Asian Jesus-es in that we multiply the loaves and fish with the addition of rice.
The real treat and highlight of the episode was Bourdain explaining what halo-halo is made of. Roughly translated as "mix-mix," he described the dessert as tasting like Froot Loops left too long in milk. Fans might recall a previous episode where Bourdain procured halo-halo from a Jollibee in Los Angeles, a far cry from the authentic taste of regular halo-halo in the street.
So, did they get it right?
The episode was masterfully shot, and throughout the 40 minutes there are familiar glimpses of Manila that do not look contrived. We have the dancing traffic enforcers, the DIY parols, flood, and men having beer outside a sari-sari store. The feature is as authentic as it can get.