Anthony Bourdain has made a career of traveling—and eating his way through—the world. Following tradition, the globetrotting continues with season four of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which kicked off Sunday with a delicious tour of Shanghai.
While lunching at Roy Choi’s pot last week, Bourdain talked about the new season, first trips, controversial storylines, the show’s aesthetic, and storytelling at large. Prepare for a severe case of wanderlust, and some serious food cravings, of course.
This season, Bourdain traveled to (in order of air date): The Bronx, Paraguay, Vietnam, Tanzania, Iran, Massachusetts, and Jamaica. There’s still unexplored terrain for Bourdain, who visited Paraguay and Iran for the first time.
“I got a definite sense that I was somewhere I’d never been, never seen, and knew nothing about,” Bourdain said of Paraguay. “It’s a big blank spot on everybody’s sort of awareness.” The episode will explore the history of Bourdain’s great, great, great grandfather, Paraguayan émigré Jean Bourdain, as well as the culture and local dishes, including bife koygua, bori bori, and sopa paraguaya.
Bourdain expects the Iran episode to be the most controversial of season four. With Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi as guides, Bourdain visited Tehran and Isfahan to see sites such as Imam Square and the Borje Milad, and sample foods such as dizi and biryani. [Rezaian was detained in Iran more than two months ago, and according to The Washington Post is being interrogated on unspecified charges. Salehi was reportedly detained at the same time.]
“It will be a very provocative, deeply confusing show,” he said, adding that a lot of the issues touched upon don’t translate as well through television. He also spoke of the way we know Iran geopolitically, and how different the country is when you’re actually there, on the ground. “I’m trying to think of a place we were received more warmly than Iran.” He was at a loss.
Massachusetts, in contrast, is familiar to Bourdain who began his culinary career there, but similar to Iran, it also handles touchy subjects. It will take a deep-dive into the state’s growing heroin problem, and reflect on Bourdain’s former drug addiction.
“You can actually see a public health problem becoming a criminal justice problem in smalltown America,” Bourdain said. “That caused me to look at where I started doing drugs, where my sort of path to heroin began, and doing a parallel story of how the high school football team moved from a legitimate pain relief problem to major heroin problem.”
What goes on behind the camera is equally important as the subjects at hand. The show is known for its dynamic cinematography, and this season they’ll be taking inspiration from relevant films. “The Bronx,” for example, was shot like a seventies, B-cop film—think Death Wish and The Seven-Ups—with a similar soundtrack. “Shanghai” looked to Wong Kar-wai.
The team got to toy with drones this season. The show has used drones before (see “Los Angeles”), but one especially exciting moment will come in “Tanzania.” The team put GoPros on heli drones and sent them over the Serengeti, capturing wildebeests, giraffes, and zebras (oh my!).
Of course the gadgets are exciting, but all of this, subjects and filmmaking together, is to tell a story. For Bourdain, when it comes to storytelling, he thinks of himself as an essayist, one with a particularly strong outlook. “I feel free to unapologetically tell stories from my point of view,” Bourdain said. That’s exactly how we expect it to be served up.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown airs Sundays at 9 pm on CNN.